Ah, the after-school programming. While my early years were spent plopping in front of the TV after a day of school to watch the likes of Darkwing Duck and DuckTales, after a year or two of school, I graduated to a higher level of braininess in my TV choices. Well, okay, maybe not. But I did get hooked on back-to-back reruns of Designing Women.
So how does one know if they’ve encountered a television obsession? Well, after a daily reran show cycles through an entire seven seasons-worth of episodes and then starts back at the beginning, and you’re still keen on tuning in every day, you just might be obsessed. That was the way of it with this highly humorous, Atlanta-set sitcom. And for all the flack it gets for its uber-80s big hair and shoulder pads and synthesizer “moral moments,” the show packed a comedic punch. From Mary Jo Shively (Annie Potts) the pushover single mom with spunky self-deprecating sense of humor, to the former beauty queen Suzanne Sugarbaker (Delta Burke) the blunt debutante with a brash mouth to match, to Charlene Frazier (Jean Smart) the slow-talking blonde with a heart of gold, to the center of the group Julia Sugarbaker (Dixie Carter) an uber-feminist with a no-nonsense attitude and a series of political tirades to entertain each and every potential viewer. Admittedly so, though the show may’ve been poked fun at a time or two, it’s impossible to deny that this wasn’t a talented cast. The ladies of Sugarbaker Designs were never devoid of zingers, and even though it suffered a few slight plotlines in some episodes, this 80s series is worth revisiting or seeing for the first time, if only to acquaint yourself with one of those famous Julia Sugarbaker speeches.
It was a toughie to choose just one particular pilot episode out of many great ones among my favorites on the tube, but the one that stuck out in particular was that of NBC’s The Office, a great comedic start to what would become the envy of comedies on network and cable television alike.
Though somewhat panned by critics (strange turn-around as it’s now such a massive success in retrospect), I found the pilot episode terribly fun. Perhaps it’s because I’d never seen an episode of the original British incarnation of the series. From establishing the rivalry between prankster Jim and straight-laced (to a degree) Dwight with the classic “stuff in Jell-O” battle, to cementing Michael Scott as the epitome of both well-meaning and funny but ultimately useless boss extraordinaire (along with cementing Steve Carell’s future career as go-to funnyman), the pilot of this future comedy classic may not be as outwardly zany or manic as some other more well-liked episodes became, but it certainly altered American television for good. It’s subdued form of hilarious awkwardness has now become the norm, nearly doing away with laugh tracks and predictable 20-minute storylines in network programming. Watching it now, it’s hard to believe that there was a time when the supporting players (now a television treasure – yes, that means you, Angela, Phyllis, Creed, Kevin, etc.) were never in the foreground. And a time when Jim’s mop-top was quite so moppy or Pam’s pallid demeanor was quite so homely. All in all, though it’s undergone some major changes since its humble beginnings, but this pilot predicted great things for the future of this show, and it’s more than met my expectations in the six seasons since.
It’s quite clear that no one knows how to end a season, or even an episode for that matter, like Showtime. From the famed Dexter season-enders to the recent Nurse Jackie second-season closer, their original programming always goes out with a bang. The show that’s perfected the ultimate cliffhanger, though, is Weeds. [WARNING: Major Weeds spoilage to follow.]
The best of the finales of Weeds has got to be the season two finale, in which Nancy’s life has gone completely insane. She’s begun her own grow house to supply her web of drug dealing marijuana, she’s gotten involved with a DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) agent who’s started to blackmail her, she’s stepped on the toes of two competing gangs, and her delinquent son has taken off with a stash of weed that the two competing gangs feel belong to them. And as the episode closes, Nancy is left facing down the barrels of many guns, all of them demanding more money and more product than she could possibly give them. Talk about an “oh s***” moment! After season one, in which Nancy is just getting into the business, buying from a more experienced dealer, this escalation of peril in Nancy’s life is what makes Weeds so entertaining. This poor lonely widowed housewife’s ascent to drug king-pin (or queen-pin, as it were) is an amazing journey to be taken on.
It’s amazing that a show that went on to become a worldwide phenomenon managed to somehow completely evade me for its six-season run. But alas, other than a smattering of episodes from the first season, I’ve not watched that epic series Lost.
And to think of all the intensely specific coverage the shows gets, from headlines to covers to six-page feature stories in virtually every issue of my favorite entertainment magazines, I’ve managed, for the most part, to avoid hearing about so many plot twists and apparent character deaths. My avoidance of the show was not voluntary. In fact, the reason I didn’t watch it from the beginning was simply that I worked on Wednesday nights. Otherwise, I’m sure I would thoroughly enjoy it. So now that it’s finished, and nearly all on dvd, it’s about time I watch it through. Thanks to the summer blahs, and the fact that the only good shows putting out new episodes right now are Kathy Griffin and True Blood, it’s perfect timing to discover Lost.
Well, this one was obviously a toughie, considering the scads of comedies I religiously watch. While I was inclined to go with that brilliant bit of dialogue from the season 5 episode of The Office, “Cafe Disco”, in which Michael talks baby talk to his workers in order to convince them to attend his dance party (“Yes, I’m your big daddy, and Ima gonna kissa da boo boo.”), for some reason YouTube insists on foiling me despite my intentions of heaping praise on the copyrighted material in question. Why am I simply not allowed to share my love of wonderful clips with my fellow bloggers?! But I digress… I chose to go with my close second as a stand-in, the incomparable Tobias Funke uttering an unforgettable line following his preparation to be in the Blue Man Group…
Ugh. That’s the first “word” that comes to mind when thinking of that pesky little annoyance that is Will Schuester on Glee. Sure, the show has many other faults (disjointed storylines, outlandish plot twists, and Finn), but the true source of this otherwise enjoyable series’ woes rests squarely on the obnoxious Spanish teacher at the center.
Whether he’s spinning and dancing and rapping to a nauseating extent with his uber-confident, “I’m a stud and I know it” glances or giving one of his end-of-the-episode patented “serious talks” about “real issues,” I’m constantly cringing. It’s rather unfortunate, really, when you think of the other great things going on around him – Jane Lynch’s magnificent zingers, the vocal prowess of the kids on the show, the growing presence of dunderheaded and delightful Brittany. And to top it off, the worst part about the show seems to be one of the things managing to get the most praise from critics’ groups. Matthew Morrison (who plays Schuester) has been nominated for a Golden Globe (and mercifully lost, thank goodness) and just today managed to be nominated for an Emmy. I mean, have they even seen the show? He’s melodramatic gobbledegook with a dash of self-indulgent playa-ism and a hint of manwhorishness (you said it best, Emma!). Honestly, if they would just have him sing instead of talk (or rap, god forbid) things would be a lot better. His showboating and sad-face are mind-numbing.
Though my all-time favorite show may’ve taken a little dip in creativity in its final season, leave it to the congenial writing staff of Friends to, at the very least, deliver the best series finale I’ve ever seen.
It contained all the perfect elements of a great series finale, in a completely un-rushed, non-bombastic way: a long-time-gone reconciliation (Ross and Rachel), a tearful goodbye (we’ll miss you, mysteriously low-rent dream apartment!), and a hopeful new beginning (Can we get a Jack and Erica Bing spinoff soon please? I mean, they can be the Geller siblings for a new generation!). With Rachel pressing to move to Europe for her career, and Ross unsure of his re-blossoming feelings for her, the finale culminates in what everyone’s been waiting for – a final, absolute end to the now-idiom “Ross and Rachel relationship” (is that perhaps the biggest cultural impact the show’s had – that now-constant reference to a back-and-forth relationship being a “Ross and Rachel thing?”). At last! Enough with the strange Rachel/Joey sequence and Ross’ inability to hang onto a wife for more than a few hours. These two kids were obviously made for each other from the blackout confession and the “With or Without You” U2 moments to the birth of their daughter.
Lest we forget, though, that this episode also brought the new Bing babies into the world (courtesy of the hysterical Anna Faris as the birth mother). To see Monica and Chandler finally becoming parents was a lovely way to end this series, which primarily was about young adults learning to become grown-ups in the backdrop of the city. And though Phoebe had a somewhat muted role in this episode (typically not a good sign for me), she did provide probably my favorite comedic moment with her reference to Jack Bing sounding like a ’40s reporter name. At least the writers had the sense to realize that those ending shots of various areas around the iconic apartment were necessary – it really was the seventh cast member.