Net-Works: The PopMatters Picks for Best TV, 2006 Part 2
My Name is Earl
Jason Lee, Jaime Pressly, Ethan Suplee, Nadine Velazquez, Eddie Steeples
Regular airtime: Thursdays, 8:00pm
(NBC; US: 20 Sep 2005)
Capping off its first season and launching its second in 2006, NBC’s sweet, funny, and irreverent My Name Is Earl is the story of a petty crook who turns his life around after discovering karma. Earl, portrayed with pitch-perfect low-key enthusiasm by Jason Lee, has quickly become one of the most loveable characters in television, simply by keeping an open mind to the world around him as he tries to right the wrongs of his life. Joining him on his journey are his dopey brother Randy, Earl’s delightfully obnoxious ex-wife Joy, her husband Darnell (aka, “Crab Man”), and Catalina, the sexy Latina maid who works at the run-down motel where Earl and Randy reside. In 2006, My Name Is Earl was scripted comedy at its finest.
The Colbert Report
Regular airtime: Weeknights, 11:30pm
(Comedy Central; US: 17 Oct 2005)
It was serendipity that led Stephen Colbert to introduce “truthiness” to the world on his very first broadcast, inadvertently providing the defining concept of these fractious times. In the months since his fall 2005 debut, Colbert’s mock-O’Reilly-punditry program has engendered a fiercely loyal following: He says it, and his minions make it so (at least on Wikipedia). Colbert keeps things moving with his infectious energy and let-me-entertain-you vibe, but it’s more than just a satire of blowhard talking heads: The show takes dead aim at the media’s groveling acceptance of the current administration, occasionally delivering punch lines, like those related to troop deaths, that draw as many gasps as cheers. To use another of Colbert’s favorite terms, the show has balls.
Santiago Cabrera, Ali Larter, Masi Oka, Hayden Panettiere, Adrian Pasdar, Sendhil Ramamurth, Milo Ventimiglia
Regular airtime: Mondays, 9pm ET
(NBC; US: 25 Sep 2006)
Serialized dramas with ensemble casts were the name of the game in scripted television for the 2006 fall season. Everyone wanted to copy the success of ABC’s Lost, but only NBC’s Heroes has proven a success. The show’s creators understood what made Lost a hit: compelling characters with complicated motives and personal demons. The “good guys” of Heroes often behave like anti-heroes, while the villains are drawn in shades of gray. We have a cheerleader who needs to be saved from herself. And possibly her father. The flying politician is a liar, the super-powered hot mom a killer, and the visionary artist an addict. Although the plotting may at times stretch thin, a fascinating collection of super-freaks made Heroes the breakout show of 2006.
Edward James Olmos, Mary McDonnell, Katee Sackhoff, Jamie Bamber, Grace Park, Tricia Helfer
Regular airtime: Fridays, 9pm
(Sci Fi Channel; US: 8 Dec 2003)
Odd but true: The cable show with the geeky name is turning out to be one of the best dramas on the air. Detailing the exploits of the human survivors of a genocide perpetrated by the Cylon robots they created, Battlestar Galactica packs more action, drama, and pathos into one episode than most shows do in a year. Edward James Olmos is the gruff heart of the show as the admiral leading a ragged fleet of spaceships in search of the mythical Earth, and the show deftly explores such weighty topics as the role of the military in government and the place of religion in modern society, as well as asking the ultimate question: Free from law, what makes us human?
Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip
Matthew Perry, Bradley Whitford, Amanda Peet, Sarah Paulson, Timothy Busfield, D.L. Hughley, Steven Weber, Nathan Coddry
Regular airtime: Mondays, 10pm ET
(NBC; US: 18 Sep 2006)
Yes, it’s cheesy and heavy-handed. And granted, the show within the show is almost never very funny. But Aaron Sorkin’s saga about the goings-on behind an SNL-like sketch comedy show is every bit as great as it is flawed. With Sorkin’s flair for witty, intelligent sentiment, superb direction led by fellow West Wing refugee Thomas Schlamme, and the tremendous interplay between leading men Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford, Studio 60 may have television’s best one-two punch both behind the camera and in front of it, further bolstered by a stellar supporting cast, led by the magnetic breakout star Sarah Paulson. And if the Christmas episode didn’t leave you emotional and giddy, you’re too heartless for anything but cop procedurals and reality shows.
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Naveen Andrews, Henry Ian Cusick, Michael Emerson, Matthew Fox, Jorge Garcia, Josh Holloway, Daniel Dae Kim, Yunjin Kim, Evangeline Lilly, Elizabeth Mitchell, Dominic Monaghan, Terry O’Quinn, Harold Perrineau
Regular airtime: Wednesdays, 9pm ET
(ABC; US: 4 Oct 2006)
The creators of Lost started the third season with a bit of a predicament. After two seasons, fans now have a semi-grasp on the workings of the mysterious island: There are the magical monsters, the all-powerful Others, the explosive scientific research stations, etc. So how do they keep viewers engaged without tipping their hands about the island’s biggest secrets? The answer: turn everything upside-down. By starting the season from the Others’ point of view—and showing their prevalent pettiness, not omnipotence—fans have a new series of questions that’ll keep them scratching their heads.
Dominic West, John Doman, Frankie Faison, Aidan Gillen, Deidre Lovejoy
(HBO; US: 2 Jun 2002)
Lauded by many critics as one of the best shows ever, The Wire also deserves the superlatives “most important” and “angriest.” Eschewing simple notions of good vs. evil, this show deconstructs “The Game”—the Politics Game, the Drug Game, the Education Game—to show the dehumanizing effects of American social institutions. Season 4 considered two plots: the upset election of white idealist Thomas Carcetti as mayor majority African-American Baltimore and four inner-city kids attempting to negotiate lives impacted by violence and poverty. Alternately inspiring, heart-breaking and enraging, The Wire is always riveting. Criminally unnoticed by the viewing public—because of its complexity and majority black cast—it should be required viewing for anyone who cares about the state of Urban America.
Season Three Premiere
Kristen Bell, Tina Majorino, Percy Daggs III, Jason Dohring, Ryan Hansen, Enrico Colantoni, Julie Gonzalo, Chris Lowell
Regular airtime: Tuesdays, 9pm ET
(CW; US: 3 Oct 2006)
As if I didn’t already have enough trouble explaining to people why I own the DVDs of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I had to go and fall violently in love with Veronica Mars, a crackling mixture of mystery, humor, and high-school heartbreak. Rob Thomas’ teen sleuth has drawn comparisons to Joss Whedon’s cult heroine, but they couldn’t be more different: The second season delved deeper into Veronica’s relationships while unspooling a dizzying story arc about a school bus crash, and Thomas did it all without giving his girl superpowers. The show also isn’t afraid to confront the ugly truth that monsters look like normal people. Packed with pop references and an eclectic soundtrack, Veronica deals with darkness, but slays it with a smile.
Jason Bateman, Jeffrey Tambor, Portia de Rossi, Michael Cera, Will Arnett, Tony Hale, Jessica Walter, David Cross, Alia Shawkat, Ron Howard
As much as fans make shake their fists and grieve for unfulfilled promise of a season on Showtime, Arrested Development really got the send-off it deserved. Rather than dumb itself down in a last-ditch effort to be embraced by a mainstream audience, the show’s final season turned up all the elements that made it brilliant to begin with: the pace got faster, the storylines stranger, and the in-jokes more prevalent, culminating in a climax most satisfying for fans (hey look! It’s Annyong!), but puzzling for a casual channel-surfer. And, for those who still can’t get over the loss of the wonderful but underappreciated series, Arrested Development‘s penchant for running gags and sly references reward the inevitable, repeated DVD viewings.
Season Three Premiere
Steve Carell, John Krasinski, Jenna Fischer, Rainn Wilson, BJ Novak
Regular airtime: Thursdays, 8:30pm ET
(NBC; US: 21 Sep 2006)
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. American sitcoms derived from beloved British counterparts are cautionary tales, not success stories. But after a slow-building first season, the U.S. Office took off in seasons two and three, perfecting the workplace comedy just as Arrested Development rewrote the family sitcom. It’s arguably even better than its UK predecessor, not in its oft-lauded discomfort comedy, but because its ensemble of disgruntled and/or neurotic co-workers is richer and more varied—including deft character turns from Mindy Kaling (girlish Kelly), B.J. Novak (weary temp-to-hire Ryan), and Brian Baumgarter (accountant and part-time drummer Kevin), among others. In this way, The Office gives us the best and worst of America—an eclectic melting pot of personalities boiling in corporate hell.