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Tuesday, Jan 12, 2010
As I continue to look back on the best TV of 2009, these are the ten best episodes...

Note: Only one episode per series.  Sorry,  Mad Men.


10. True Blood – I Will Rise Up
Okay, so I watched True Blood in a marathon last month, and I honestly have a hard time singling out an episode as the best in the season.  I enjoyed the season a lot – a very fun, guilty pleasure – and the cluster of episodes toward the end (8-10 of 12) were where things really came to a head.  The Dallas storyline and the Fellowship of the Sun storyline came together nicely and concluded in this episode. The highlight though, of this episode and of the season, is the Sookie-Eric dynamic, which took an important turn here.  And, of course, like every episode, it ended with a fantastic cliffhanger.


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Monday, Jan 11, 2010
'American Idol' has always had an uncomfortable relationship with its gay contestants. Maybe that will change now that they have the woman who had the most dignified public coming out in the history of TV at the judges table.

The most popular TV show in America is back this week. There are two things I know about this season. First, Ellen DeGeneres will be joining the panel as a judge starting Hollywood week. Second, some of the participants in this singing contest will be gay. If past history is any guide, those contestants will stay officially in the closet while on the show. 
 
It started on season one when Jim Verraros removed any mention of being gay from his show profile. Clay Aiken took second place in season two, but did not talk about his sexuality until five years later. During season seven, we had David Hernandez, whose exit coincided with pictures of him stripping. And, of course, last season gave us Adam Lambert. None of them were ever out on the show itself.


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Saturday, Jan 9, 2010
Thoughts on Big Love as its fourth season kicks off on HBO.

The fourth season of Big Love began on Sunday, January 10, and, as I sat down to watch the season premiere, I realized, unexpectedly, that I was very excited.  Perhaps it is because of the brutally cold weather outside, or because nothing “real” has aired since mid-December, but I was really, really excited.  The surprise I felt was due to my ambivalence toward the first two seasons of the show; however, after a strike-lengthened hiatus, last year’s third season was easily the best.


From the first episode, Big Love’s cast immediately stands out as a major reason to give it a chance.  Bill Paxton gives a career-best performance as Bill Henrickson, and his wives – played by Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloe Sevigny, and Ginnifer Goodwin – are even more compelling actors.  I found the plotting of the first two seasons often ponderous, and I really doubted the ability of showrunners Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer to tell a coherent story.  The third season, though, found the show cohering in a way that it never had before and upping the stakes considerably, tackling topics such as abortion, ex-communication, divorce, and murder in ways that had noticeable consequences on the characters.  By finally allowing things to happen – rather than showing how all the characters remained the same despite the turmoil surrounding them – the show took important steps forward and, significantly, allowed its characters to start to grow and change in realistic ways.


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Thursday, Jan 7, 2010
Before Xena, before Buffy, even before Emma Peel, there was Annie Oakley, TV's first female action hero.

Long before Xena, long before Buffy, there was Annie Oakley. In 81 episodes made between 1954 to 1957, the TV series starring Gail Davis stood in stark contrast both all other contemporary Westerns, all of which starred men, while all other shows with female leads had none who were especially heroic. The show’s Annie Oakley was based only very loosely on the real life Annie Oakley, an Easterner who grew up outside of Cincinnati whose prowess with a rifle gained her a spot as the star performer with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.


The show was actually fairly pedestrian, with stories that never rose above standard Western fare, though in fairness they were no worse than the vast majority of B Westerns. Set in the town of Diablo, the only major recurring characters were Annie, her little brother Tagg, and deputy Sheriff Lofty Craig. Tagg’s main purpose was comic relief and as a catalyst for advancing the plot of most episodes, his mischievousness creating situations where Annie had to save him (think of the famous line from Buffy: "Dawn’s in trouble, it must be Tuesday). The plots invariably consisted of some problem that Annie had to resolve, either a mystery to resolve, or a villain to apprehend, or an innocent to absolve of guilt. The show was targeted at kids so the good guys always won and there was no such thing as moral ambiguity. The series is memorable exclusively for Annie. Without her there would simply be no reason to remember or watch the show.


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Monday, Jan 4, 2010
TNA's live broadcast against WWE on January 4 could be a turning point for American TV wrestling. One shot alone won't make it through the WWE's bovine skull, but at least someone's started firing.

It’s finally here! All over the place in the mainstream media, fawning fans of various shows have finally declared television to have officially achieved the status of capital-A Art, with a new era of greatness spilling out of our screens and ushering in a future of digital, LCD, 16:9-enhanced cultural prestige. Phew, that’s a relief. Now I can happily expand my cultural horizons every gosh-dern day without actually having to do anything (except maybe buy a set-top box).


Really, it all sounds a little more like the epoch of an obsessive cultural need for narcissistic self-validation (look Ma, watching TV makes me feel important!)—even a quick look back through history will see modern television repeating many of the high-points, and replicating many of the sins, of its past. Yes, The Wire really is great; but Art is discussed, not declared, and television’s been art for as long as it’s also been trash.


So, while some will still be patting themselves on the back for having watched The Sopranos all by themselves and without any help at all from the big kids, I’m still just as interested in trash and what’s going to happen on Mondays nights in wrestling. Yup, rasslin’. In fact, in the spirit of this great new media dawn we’re facing, I’m going to declare it a cultural turning point: TNA vs WWE on January 4, 2010.


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