Welcome back to the Bitch Awards. We’re up to number four on our best and worst of 2011: Television.
#4: New Girl S1
My issue with New Girl is similar to my issue with Super 8 last week: this is a show that doesn’t quite know what it is and it has spent an inordinate amount of time, energy and viewer patience trying to figure it out. Jess (Zoey Deschanel) is the new girl in a three guy bachelor pad and together they have wacky adventures, many of which stem from her inability to function as a human being (FOX calls this ‘adorkable’. I call this incredibly frustrating).
A number of people highlight the fact that in another sitcom or film, Jess would be the wacky best friend or weird character off to the side. I agree that it’s novel having someone like her at the center, but that doesn’t mean that I can just forgive the show for not knowing what to do with her now that she’s in the spotlight. Is she the girl who can’t say penis (funny and mildly relateable) or is she the girl who goes on a rant a few episodes later about how the guys are vag-blocking her when she’s trying to get some with a cute co-worker? Is it too much to ask that the character have some internal consistency?
Add to this a similar character in Schmidt (Max Greenfield) who varies from completely manic d-bag to Martha Stewart neat freak. Some of it is funny (his furniture war with Jake M. Johnson = funny), some of it makes you want to rip your hair out because he’s little more than a caricature. Of course, at least he’s better than Lamorne Morris’ Winston who came in in the second episode to replace Damon Wayans’ Coach and took around six episodes to form any kind of identity beyond token black-guy, basketball player in Latvia (because that is sooo funny).
The show began to come together more in the last few episodes I saw (‘Thanksgiving’ was a solid ensemble project, and ‘Bells’ was actually less of a comedy and more of a drama with funny bits thrown in) so the show is getting better. But it’s taken more than a third of the season to do so, which seems excessive for the show that critics fell over themselves to praise. This is the best new comedy of the season? Maybe in time when it completely figures out its characters, but for wasting my time and giving me wild inconsistency across the majority of its characters, its on my worst list.
# of episodes watched: 7
Returns: January 17, 2012 @ 9:00pm EST on FOX
Laughs: Some episodes are significantly funnier than others
#4: How I Met Your Mother S7
The reason HIMYM ends up on my worst list is primarily due to frustration. For anyone unfamiliar with the show, its narrative hook relies primarily on a flashback structure. Each episode opens with Ted (Josh Radnor, voiced by an uncredited Bob Saget as Future Ted) telling his children how he met their mother by recounting the various shenanigans in which he and his closest friends partook. Generally, it’s a good little gimmick to hook viewers in – but guess what? We’re on season seven here people. Yes, seven. That means we’ve had over 150 (oh yes, 150!) episodes with the same formula and we still haven’t met the aforementioned mother! Dragging things out isn’t something new to sitcoms (*cough* Ross and Rachel on Friends) but like so many storylines before, prolonging your central romantic relationship get tired real fast. By the time you reach season seven and have cried wolf for the sixth time in a row (via season finales), some of your audience (read: me) are gonna be mighty tired of waiting and jump ship.
It’s unfortunate, because we’ve got some great performers on the show (Jason Segal, Neil Patrick Harris and Cobie Smulders I feel carry the show) and the writing is pretty tight overall. There also have been some great moments throughout the series, and even in the few episodes I caught this season (‘Symphony of Illumination’ in particular). But the restricting formula of teasing the reveal of the mother ultimately got to me this season. There are better shows out there and I didn’t want to be wasting my finite amount of television watching time on the same old fake outs and curtailing.
With Segal’s burgeoning film career, and NPH’s continuing rising stardom, it’s unlikely the show is going to continue for much longer and I think the writers are on to this. The plan seems to be to ride it out for as long as possible and then throw out huge reveal after reveal in a small amount of time as we approach the series finale. Unfortunately, as history has shown us, this isn’t the most tactful of plans. I would much rather see a less lazy approach, reveal things in a well-paced manner and deal with the narrative ramifications. I’m disappointed that the creative team isn’t up to the challenge and instead chooses to placate the audience with red herrings assuming they’ll stick around forever. Sorry guys, but for me, you’ve overstayed your welcome.
# of episodes watched: 3
Returns: January 2012 @ 8:00pm EST on CBS (Currently mid-season 7)
Laughs: A couple chuckles per episode
#4: Awkward S1
Awkward is the rarest of television shows: one that accurately knows what to do with teenage characters. Unlike other shows, which frequently seem as though they’re written by a thirty year-old white man desperately trying to grasp situations that are relevant to “the kids” these days, Awkward is the real deal.
This is a show that’s truthful about the realities of teens. Our protagonist Jenna (Ashley Rickards) comes from the school of Daria and Veronica Mars: she’s a sarcastic, self-aware girl who may just be the smartest person in the room. Unless of course it comes to matter of love, and then she’s a hopeless mess.
The season opens like so many other teen shows: with Jenna losing her virginity to the most popular boy in school over the summer break. Wait…you mean that’s not conventional? That’s because right out of the box, Awkward isn’t afraid of telling it like it is. This isn’t 90210 or Glee – there are no “special” episodes. Everyone is too busy trying to survive high school, get laid or one-up their nemesis.
There’s also an unusual angle to the show: it has an ongoing mystery. Just before the start of the new school year, Jenna receives a mysterious letter calling her out for wasting her life and telling her to shape up. The search for the letter’s author is the dramatic frame for the series, while the comedic premise of the series occurs immediately thereafter when Jenna has an accident that everyone, including her parents, hilariously and inappropriately interprets as a suicide attempt. As a result she instantly skyrockets to the top of the gossip mill, attracting the attention of not only her summer crush, Matty (Beau Mirchoff), but his best friend Jake (Brett Davern), and the school bully, Sadie (Molly Tarlov), who caps off every insult with “You’re welcome” as if she’s doing you a favour. The accident also puts her into contact with the flaky school guidance counsellor who’s both desperate to relate to “the kids” and gives spectacularly awful – and inappropriate – advice.
All in all, the ten episodes (running at a brisk thirty minutes per episode) packs a significant amount of hilarity, mystery, love and embarrassing awkwardness that it easily became a highlight of my summer viewing. With season two still a few months away, there’s still time to catch up on Jenna’s exploits in time for the show’s return. In the words of Sadie: You’re welcome.
Returns: Sometime in 2012 on MTV
#4: Breaking Bad S4
For anyone whose viewed this season (or any season for that matter) of Breaking Bad, it should come as no surprise that it ends up on my best list. For anyone who hasn’t seen the show, I say: Start watching! All the praise you’ve heard about it is completely true. It is one of the best shows on television ever. And that honour is due to a truly collaborative team of writers, directors and actors. Everyone is working toward the goal of damn good storytelling and it shows. The pieces of the show fit together perfectly – it goes beyond the traditional episodic narrative reaching cinematic quality in all respects.
Quick summary of the series for anyone who has been living under a rock and not had a chance to see it – high school chemistry teacher Walter White (Bryan Cranston, who earns his best actor Emmys year after year) is diagnosed with lung cancer and turns to the creation and selling crystal meth with former student Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) in order to provide for his family. This season see White and Pinkman full-on working for (and plotting to dethrone) Gustavo ‘Gus’ Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) the current meth kingpin in the southwest region. It’s difficult to summarize an entire season of events (because there are so many mind-blowing moments!), but I will say there were many instances where I was shaking my head wondering how the hell characters were going to get out of impossible situations. Unlike the creative team over at How I Met Your Mother, these folks seemed to relish the thought of writing themselves in a corner, welcoming the challenge of trying to write themselves out.
The tension throughout the season, particularly in its latter half, is almost unbearable – but is one of the primary reasons it lands on my best list. It’s been awhile since I’ve been so engrossed in a television show, (behaviour included: heart-racing, breath quickening, talking back to the television- passive viewing is not present here!) it really is a wonderful thing when you become so invested. And the performances – I can’t say enough about how amazing the acting is. If I had to choose, I would single out Giancarlo Esposito as his portrayal of Gus is just perfect. And I just can’t forget to mention Mark Margolis who steals the show (across several seasons) as the wheelchair bound, paralyzed and mute, Tio Salamanca.
I struggled with where I would rank the show, and the reason it doesn’t placer higher is that I thought the pacing was a bit off. Although the rest of the episodes were still compelling, it wasn’t until “Salud” the season’s tenth episode, where Breaking Bad went from really good television to be-right-there-when-it-airs, event television. And the season finale? It’s one for the history books my friends.
Returns: Mid 2012 for its final season (which will be broken up over 2012/2013) on AMC
Watch: Season 1 and work your way through
How do you feel about our number four choices? How do they compare to your own list? Let us know in the comments below.
Tomorrow we reveal our third favourite (and least favourite) shows of the year as we make our way to number one. Stay tuned.