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Best Arts and Culture Blog Nominee

Monday, December 26, 2005


ModFabulous: Best Television of 2005

2005 is going to be remembered as a vital moment in television history, and not just because Pamela Anderson starred in her own sitcom. This year, I (and millions of you out there) got DVRs from our cable companies, and immediately changed lifelong viewing habits -- now, we never watch a show in its timeslot (because it's recorded for our convenience), and we never sit through ads. And then about two months ago, I downloaded a television show through iTunes for the first time. And suddenly, advertisers weren't paying for television content...I was. And if I'm going to pay, goddamnit, I want something better than Scrubs.

We're still a few years away from all of this change shaking out, but you can already see the havoc on your TV sets -- programmers are shooting blindly, trying to attract your eyeballs in a futile, Rome-is-burning hysteria. In the midst of it all, there were a few things worth setting the DVR for. And then, actually watching.

The Colbert Report (Comedy Central); Desperate Housewives (ABC); Everybody Hates Chris (UPN); Nip/Tuck (FX); Rome (HBO)

Special Award of Achievement: LOGO
If you'd told me five years ago that there'd be a 24-hour cable channel devoted to LGBT entertainment, I'd have bought your one-way ticket to the funny farm. But lo and behold here it is, and the silver lining is, it's not too bad. Sure, it's mostly movies we've all see before (I could do without the endless reruns of Holiday Heart, folks), but some of the original content is dazzling: original shows like Noah's Arc and First Comes Love show us ourselves in new ways, while the documentary series dazzles in its thorough excavation of gay lives. It's not the only gay channel (Here! TV, etc.), but it's the only one beaming for free into houses all over the country...and in the process, changing more lives than we can possibly imagine.

10. Drawn Together (Comedy Central)
The heir apparent to South Park and Family Guy, this animated "reality series" is really one long smutty joke...but a really FUNNY, endlessly creative one. The characters are true and clear, the plotlines are wildly inventive, and the blue zingers will either make you gasp or choke on your soda...while laughing yourself to death. If you don't love the closeted S&M freak Captain Hero, I tell you, you have no funny bone.

9. Extras (HBO)
So what if it's not as funny as Ricky Gervais' last series (The Office, BBC America)? It's still smarter than any other situation comedy on television, a dagger-sharp comic exposé of life as a lowly actor. Not merely content to savage Hollywood, Gervais explores romance, self-worth, and ambition with a finesse that escapes most people...especially those in the business. Brilliant.

8. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (Comedy Central)
Although The Colbert Report and Real Time with Bill Maher are triumphs in their own right, only the award-winning Daily Show with Jon Stewart manages to make political satire soar night after night. Underneath its flabby and funny exterior, there beats the hearts of true investigative journalists. Proof that laughter can, indeed, turn you into a well-rounded individual.

7. Noah's Arc (LOGO)
A simpler, broader, and bitchier version of Sex and the City, the quartet of African-American gay men at the center Patrik-Ian Polk's landmark series grew exponentially with every episode during its debut season. On occasion, it devolves into polemics or histrionics, kind of a multicultural Dawson's Creek. But at its best, the show hits a charming groove somewhere between ribald comedy and earnest drama. And when it does, it's the most sublime thing on your channel dial.

6. Big Brother 6 (CBS)
There's one reason this year's installment of the summer reality perennial was exemplary television, and one reason only: Janelle. The blond bombshell proved to be this game's master player, finessing her way out of one hairy situation after another. With her nutty supporting cast (the gentleman Kaysar and the lout Howie), she gleefully waged war on the poorly named "Friendship" and almost won the big money in the process. I'm not kidding when I say I'm a fan: my best friend and I got Janelle's signature phrase -- "Bye Bye, Bitches!" -- put onto t-shirts.

5. The Office (NBC)
While it may not equal the British original, Steve Carell's wacky American remake has finally found its stride in season two. Delighting in the excruciating dullness of the daily grind, it has the best comic cast on television, including the laugh-out-loud pair of dueling deskmates Rainn Wilson and John Krasinski. The laughs on the far-inferior My Name Is Earl may be more accessible to the masses, but The Office is Seinfeld for the new millennium...the kind of sitcom that stands the test of time.

4. Lost (ABC)
Night and night, week after week, the castaways on the mysterious island discover new pieces to their puzzle that boggle the mind. How do they do it!?!? The plot is maddeningly addictive, but the characters make Lost what it is...the ensemble works together like a finely tuned repertory company, and its standouts -- Naveen Andrews, Matthew Fox, Harold Perrineau and newcomer Michelle Rodriguez -- make the small screen shine like a blockbuster Hollywood feature. (One note: don't press the button...let's see what happens!)

3. Project Runway 2 (Bravo)
Only four episodes in, and Bravo's fashionista extravaganza has already reminded everyone why it is indeed the best reality program on television. (Especially now that The Amazing Race has started to fumble with its inane "family edition.") Of course there's bitchiness galore (I'm talking to you, Santino). But it's much, much more. In a mere sixty minutes, artists take an idea and spin it into reality...only to be mercilessly judged on its success or failure. If that's not drama, kiddies, I don't know what is.

2. Six Feet Under (HBO)
With a dignity that was both expected and yet totally surprising, the Fisher clan left television exploring life and death with magic energy. No more mere survival in the face of their patriarch's death four years ago -- this year, the family faced their own collective mortality with a brutal storyline ending in Nate's own demise. If there's an Emmy Award for an individual episode, it must go to writer/producer/creator Alan Ball's astonishing flash-before-Claire's-eyes finale...which even after five months, I haven't been able to delete from my DVR. I keep hoping that the dead will rise again.

1. Battlestar Galactica (Sci-Fi Channel)
Do you hate science fiction? Doesn't matter. Trust me, people...this is the show for you. Although the battlestar may be in outer space, its crew is wholly of this time and place...wracked with guilt, bursting with passion, and struggling with demons. The most intense drama on television, Battlestar Galactica delves into issues other shows wouldn't dream of touching: the bleak trauma of perpetual war, the devastating possibilities of technology, and the future of humanity. It does so with such assured confidence that the result often feels like an exquisite HBO miniseries, rather than a mere cable serial. Discover it in January, when Season Three begins. And see what all my fuss is about.


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