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Countdown with Keith Olbermann

Cast: Keith Olbermann
Regular airtime: Weeknights, 8pm

(MSNBC; US: 31 Mar 2003)

20


Countdown with Keith Olbermann MSNBC


Some say he’s inherited the mantle left behind by previous broadcast giants like Edward R. Murrow (whose ‘goodnight and good luck’ catchphrase he liberally borrows) and Walter Cronkite. Yet the former EPSN analyst’s shtick is far more politicized than his predecessors. Beginning with his anti-Bush posturing - he loves to point out the number of days since the President declared “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq—and ending with his famed Special Comments, Olbermann is the perfect pundit, a man unashamed of speaking his mind. That it frequently reflects the truth of a situation makes the one sided reportage all the more meaningful. Bill Gibron





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Ugly Betty

Series Premiere
Cast: America Ferrera, Eric Mabius, Vanessa Williams, Alan Dale, Mark Indelicato, Ashley Jensen
Regular airtime: Thursdays, 8pm ET

(ABC; US: 28 Sep 2006)

Review [5.Oct.2006]

19


Ugly Betty ABC


Ugly Betty‘s a total soap opera. It dramatizes the struggles of children and grandchildren of Mexican immigrants. So it’s just The Devil Wears Prada reconceived as a television series, right. No: Ugly Betty‘s simply more proof that unlimited wealth can’t buy happiness, that the richest 1% of Americans have problems, too. Maybe the series does act as a loose post-mortem critique of John F. Kennedy Jr.? Question: which statement is true? Answer: all of them, which is what makes this America Ferrera-helmed vehicle one of the fiercest, funniest comedy-dramas going right now. Did I forget to mention how ceaselessly hilarious this show also is? Shame on me. Ray Cummings





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The Sopranos

Cast: James Gandolfini, Edie Falco, Lorraine Bracco, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Robert Iler, Michael Imperioli, Aida Turturro, Steven R. Schirripa
Regular airtime: Sundays, 9pm ET

(HBO; US: 8 Apr 2007)

Review [24.Apr.2007]
Review [16.Mar.2006]
Review [12.Apr.2004]
Review [23.Sep.2002]
Review [1.Jan.1995]

18


The Sopranos HBO


Cut to black. With that, The Sopranos ended and sparked a conversation about TV as art. Television is often implicated in American culture wars, but those are clashes about content. The impassioned debate about The Sopranos’ finale is about form and meaning. Is that any way to end a drama? Does the “nothingness” signify death? Or is it an elision of false resolutions? These are not questions asked of series television. Find flaws if you want with “Kevin Finnerty”, or time spent on Vito Spatafore (Joseph Gannacoli), or how abruptly Dr. Melfi (Lorraine Bracco) drops Tony (James Gandolfini), or the cut to black, The Sopranos expanded the horizons of American TV. And for that it can’t be faulted. Shaun Huston





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Big Love

Cast: Bill Paxton, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloë Sevingy, Ginnifer Goodwin, Harry Dean Staton
Regular airtime: Sundays, 10pm

(HBO)

Review [2.Jul.2007]
Review [23.Mar.2006]

17


Big Love HBO


Season two of HBO’s polygamy drama picked up two weeks after season one, with Utah businessman Bill Henrickson in danger of being exposed as a man with three wives.  Despite a typical season’s worth of plot machinations—a video game poker enterprise, a possible fourth wife, the hardcore polygamists that make up the Henrickson’s extended family—the show sticks to what it does best, depicting a modern-day family trying, with genuine conviction and love, to make it work. The writers never condescend, and they never turn away. The acting is across-the-board excellent but Jean Tripplehorn as proud, lovelorn first wife Barbara, and Chloe Sevigny as Nicky, the wily second wife, stand out. Peter Swanson





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VH1’s The White Rapper Show

Cast: MC Serch, Dasit, Jon Boy, Misfit, Sullee, Persia, John Brown, 100 Proof, $hamrock
Regular airtime: Sundays, 10:30pm

(VH1; US: 8 Jan 2007)

16


VH1’s The (White) Rapper Show VH1


Every now and again, reality television as a genre knocks one out of the park. Witness VH1’s The (White) Rapper Show, wherein a bespeckled, grizzly MC Serch put a rag-tag group of melanin-deficient hopefuls through hip-hop boot camp. The program functioned almost as a honkie microcosm of commercial, “real-deal” rap world, with a contestant for almost every possible role: John Brown as cold, conniving gangsta, Jus Rhyme as backpacker activist, Persia as b-girl female jonesin’ for respect, $hamrock as florid Lil Wayne clone, and so on. The (White) Rapper Show began—seemingly—as a way for channel-surfers to feel superior to yet another cultural public, but concluded as an unwittingly addictive cousin to Bravo’s Project Runway: we were granted a window into the bare mechanics of an art and the ugly clashes erupting between ambitious personalities. Now: when are those debut albums gonna drop? Ray Cummings





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Ninja Warrior

Cast: Ichiro Furutachi, Keisuke Hatsuta, Wataru Ogasawara
Regular airtime: Weeknight, 6 and 10pm

(G4 Television; US: 26 Sep 1997)

15


Ninja Warrior G4 Television


Imagine MXC without the excessive toilet humor. Actually, imagine the Spike series original production, Takashi’s Castle, with actual reverence for the source. Looking for a way to broaden their fanbase, the video game oriented G4 cable channel bought truncated versions of Sasuke (a seasonal televised athletic contest) and renamed it. Now presenting all 19 seasons, including the females only Women of Ninja Warrior, this intensely entertaining obstacle course competition features recurring participants, outrageous stunts, and more than a few spectacular failures. In fact, one of the best elements of this show is its difficulty. It truly rewards only the best and most accomplished. Bill Gibron





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South Park

Cast: Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Isaac Hayes, Gracie Lazar, Mona Marshall
Regular airtime: Wednesdays, 10pm

(Comedy Central)

Review [18.Oct.2006]
Review [26.Oct.2005]

14


South Park Comedy Central


Rumor has it that Brad Neely, creator of such internet staples as The Professor Brothers and Baby Cakes, was a consultant for this year’s season (11, for those counting) of South Park. It’s unconfirmed, but would explain the crowning achievement of the most irreverent show (cartoon or otherwise) on television: the “Imaginationland” Trilogy. If South Park this year will be remembered for anything, it will be this epic, ridiculous, avant, cult arc that posits a terrorist attack on Imaginationland and the government’s response. Indicative of what the show has become—topical and absolutely batshit crazy simultaneously—the trilogy stands against other season staples: parodies of Hillary Clinton, U2, Guitar Hero, Michael Richards, Gay Camp, and zombies. Who knew back when flying excrement was the motif of the day that South Park would be the pop culture junkies’ best friend? Mordechai Shinefield





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Human Giant

Cast: Aziz Ansari, Rob Huebel, Paul Scheer
Regular airtime: Thursdays, 10:30pm ET

(MTV; US: 5 Apr 2007)

Review [2.May.2007]

13


Human Giant MTV


It was a short series run and a good chunk of the sketches were re-plays of the Internet shorts that got them there. But the comedians who make up Human Giant—Aziz Ansari, Rob Huebel, Paul Scheer, Jason Woliner—had a promising debut on MTV this year, welding Kids in the Hall and Mr. Show with New York geek cool that was absurd, accessible, and contagiously fun. They’re equally talented played broad or straight to their inspired guests (Linda Cardellini as the head of a mother/son moving company, pint sized ham Bobb’e J. Thompson as the head of Shutterbugs). And with their 24-hour marathon they proved they’re not just funny in two-minute bursts. Michael Buening





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Veronica Mars

Cast: Kristen Bell, Percy Daggs III, Enrico Colantoni, Jason Dohring
Regular airtime: Wednesdays, 9pm ET

(UPN)

Review [28.May.2007]
Review [28.May.2007]
Review [3.Oct.2006]
Review [28.Sep.2005]
Review [17.May.2005]
Review [4.Oct.2004]
Review [1.Jan.1995]

12


Veronica Mars CW Network


This year, the CW robbed us of TV’s craftiest detective in favor of the younger, blander Gossip Girl—the kind of bonehead move Veronica herself would take down with a single acidic one-liner. Not being as verbally blessed as Ms. Mars (who is?), I’ll simply note that the final chunk of the third season—including a sex tape, a sheriff election, and Paul Rudd as a besotted rock star—kept to the show’s high standards, right up to a series finale as intriguing, thorny, and frustratingly unresolved as vintage noir. Jesse Hassenger





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House

Cast: Hugh Laurie, Omar Epps, Robert Sean Leonard, Jesse Spencer
Regular airtime: Tuesdays, 9pm

(Fox; US: 16 Nov 2004)

Review [16.Sep.2008]
Review [25.Sep.2007]
Review [4.Oct.2005]
Review [22.Nov.2004]

11


House Fox


Last season, show creator David Shore did something incredibly ballsy. He had all of the House ducklings (Chase, Cameron and Foreman) either quit or be fired. Essentially, he wiped the show clean—something admittedly needed after the extended Tritter fiasco. Still, it could’ve been the moment that Gregory House jumped the shark. Instead, we were treated to a Survivor-style reality show in which House took a room full of potential new ducklings and whittled them down to three. As always it was sharp, indignant, and hysterical, but for the first time, every episode seemed essential. Unlike Tritter (and the first season Vogler), it was a House arc worth paying attention to. Not to mention Kal Penn. Genius. Mordechai Shinefield



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