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Angel2004 Year In Review - Tuning in the year’s best - Angel is #9
By Kevin Williamson
Sunday 2 January 2005, by Webmaster
People like their housewives desperate, not their pop idols. Which explains, as much as anything else, why Janet Jackson’s nipple during the Super Bowl Halftime Show was 2004’s seminal televised debacle.
It wasn’t that Jackson exposed her mammilla - it was that the stunt itself was the last resort of a singer whose fortunes, among other things, were sagging. Folks smelled blood - rich and freaky Jackson blood, no less - and they pounced.
Would Paris Hilton - or Britney Spears - have been spared this had they “accidentally” bared their bosoms? Probably.
And we, in turn, would have been spared the outcome - a Hollywood creative community scared of its own nipples, a media salivating for the next scandal, and a “morally-outraged” minority awaiting its next public platform.
Is the world a better place now than it was Feb. 1, 2004? The time I checked, no.
Nicollette Sheridan disrobes on a Monday Night Football promo - in a sequence about as shocking as a 1986 episode of Days Of Our Lives - and it’s labelled “Towelgate” before her towel hits the locker-room floor.
Meanwhile, Fox churns out The Littlest Groom, The Swan and next week’s Who’s Your Daddy? and there’s nary a peep as the degradation-as-entertainment cottage industry known as reality-TV marches on.
Of course, maybe that’s because no one’s interested in reality-TV anymore. If 2004 had a good news story, it wasn’t lawmakers clamping down on broadcasters after “Nipplegate,” but the apathy audiences started to reveal towards reality fare.
Despite dominating the first half of the year, Donald Trump’s The Apprentice underperformed this past fall - as did the genre as a whole.
Picking up the slack were scripted hits Desperate Housewives and Lost, giving hope that after years of promising series being axed in favour of sniggering tear-filled hazings (The Bachelor) our long collective nightmare is over.
And, thanks in part to the following 10 shows that exemplified TV at its best in 2004, maybe the healing can begin:
• 1. ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT: Yes, yes - the sitcom is dead. And movie studios only want to make old crappy TV shows with “irony” (Starsky & Hutch). So how is it that this sly comic masterstroke somehow slipped through when no one was looking? The second season of this Emmy winner has surpassed even the first, showing that, far from dead, comedy that’s fresh and smart and whimsical can still find a home on broadcast television, and not just HBO and Showtime. If Hollywood had any sense, they’d just cut to the chase and make Arrested Development: The Motion Picture and save us 30 years of waiting.
• 2. LOST: When J.J. Abrams’ Lost premiered in September, there wasn’t a critic out there (myself included) who thought it stood a chance. Then 18 million viewers tuned into the premiere with its cinematic thrills and twisting non-linear plot and they got hooked. No wonder. Abrams (Alias) and his writers have managed the feat of keeping the series - with its one-note premise - fresh with mysterious subplots, narrative surprises and compact timeline (the first season will amount to a month on the island). How long can they sustain it? Who cares? For now, just enjoy the flight.
• 3. THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART: In a year defined by war, strife and the political divide in the U.S., no one charted this territory more cannily than Jon Stewart’s skewering of journalists and lawmakers alike. With veterans such as Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather calling it quits before they’re forced to book-end their broadcasts with stupid pet tricks, Stewart is fast becoming not just the primacy source of societal satire for his young fanbase, but their primary source of news, period.
• 4. RESCUE ME: Denis Leary takes the dark comic bearing of his underappreciated The Job and transplants it to the world of New York firefighters in this moving, uproarious and heart-rendering series. Co-creator Leary treats his heroes as humans - not the demi-gods of Backdraft or Ladder 49 - and, as a fireman haunted by death, divorce and dismay, delivers a central performance that’s a revelation. So is the show.
• 5. 24: It’s still the most sheerly exhilarating drama on TV, but the third season of 24 was also wildly uneven - veering from finely-honed suspense to eye-rolling absurdity. The result was a rickety rollercoaster ride that ended, thanks to its lacklustre season finale, with much more of a whimper than the bang its fans are used to. Kiefer Sutherland and the show’s producers must have felt the same way and initiated a sweeping shake-up. The fourth season, debuting Jan. 9, is a near-reboot with an all-new cast of characters, save for Sutherland’s anti-hero, Jack Bauer.
• 6. CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM: Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm is scalding and cheerless, hilarious and irresistible. Like David’s last series Seinfeld, Curb is a comedy of manners. And, like Seinfeld, the plots here are both paper-thin and craftily-elaborate (watch how subplots that have nothing to do with each other seamlessly dovetail). Shot in a verite-style that recalls Larry Sanders, the comedy is also unique because its mostly unscripted, with the actors improvising lines as they go, following only a bare-bones outline. One complaint I’ve heard from some people is that David is too unlikable to want to spend time with. (Somehow, their fuzzy sensibilities manage to endure reality-TV, which is populated by the world’s most reprehensible fame whores.) Their loss. For viewers offended, not by bad behaviour, but by shoddy sitcom writing, this is one flat-out funny gut-buster.
• 7. DEADWOOD: David Milch’s western is the most accomplished oater since Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven and another feather in the cap of U.S. cable channel HBO. Set two weeks after Custer’s Last Stand at Little Big Horn, Deadwood fuses historical and fictional characters in the real-life town that the series is named for. Part-deconstruction, part-pulp fiction, Deadwood submerges the viewer into a primitive, desperate time when life was dirt-cheap. The real Deadwood, after all was a soiled magnet for society’s dregs and Milch doesn’t flinch from the grizzled and grisly truth. His actors, unlike most cinematic cowboys, are convincing as a filthy, flea-bitten lot. And the show’s violence steers clear of Young Guns-style blazes of cartoonish glory, favouring instead a callow gruesomeness that is remarkably chilling.
• 8. SCRUBS: A clever comedy with a leading man who’s a rising Hollywood star should have an easier time of it than this. Scrubs, with Garden State’s Zach Braff still contractually obligated for a couple more years, was NBC’s best bet at retaining their Friends audience on Thursdays. Instead they gave the coveted timeslot to bland, boneheaded Joey. The nitwits at NBC should be flogged. Oh, wait - judging from the network’s plunging ratings this season, they probably are.
• 9. ANGEL: The final season of this Buffy The Vampire Slayer spinoff saw reformed vampire Angel (David Boreanaz) and his band of not-so-merry men and monsters - occult nerd Wesley, green-skinned Lorne, street-wise Gunn and Britpunk vampire Spike - assume control of demonic law firm Wolfram and Hart and, in the end, choose to be destroyed rather than corrupted. The same could be said for executive producer Joss Whedon and The WB, which inexplicably axed the show.
• 10. MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE/THE SIMPSONS: We all take our loved ones for granted now and again - forgetting just how good it is to have them and how much we count on them. So while Arrested Development may be the buzzed-about crown jewel in Fox’s Sunday night lineup - hey, it’s new and shiny - it has a long way to go before deserving the unwavering loyalty Malcolm in the Middle and The Simpsons have earned after, in the case of the latter, 16 seasons.
• • • • •
AND FOR THE WORST OF ’04
• THE LITTLEST GROOM: Think of it as emotional dwarf tossing - a pint-sized “bachelor” has to choose a bride. But will she be big or small? Repellent tripe.
• THE SWAN: Skin deep trash. “Ugly ducklings” undergo cosmetic surgery to make themselves feel pretty, then compete against each other in a beauty pageant.
• HAWAII: Thomas Magnum would have had Michael Biehn’s detective for breakfast. This cheeseball cop show didn’t last the fall against ABC’s hit Lost.
• QUINTUPLETS: Ex-Conan O’Brien sidekick Andy Richter returned to TV after the wonderful Andy Richter Controls The Universe with this. Why, Andy, why?
• THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO: Only 1,460 days until 2009 when Conan O’Brien takes over and the Tonight Show doesn’t suck anymore.
• THE ASHLEE SIMPSON SHOW: People call it a guilty pleasure. But how can you support a show that glamourizes a lip-synching fraud like Jessica’s baby sister?
• THE SIMPLE LIFE 2: ROADTRIP: Rich girls Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie have the time of their lives pretending to be poor.
• FRIENDS: The splashy finale of this ’90s sitcom was as shallow and predictable as the previous 10 seasons and certainly undeserving of the hype that accompanied it.
• CROSSING JORDAN: It isn’t a surprise this brain-dead drama about a mystery-solving coroner would land on this list. It’s a surprise it’s still on the air.
• CANADIAN IDOL: It’s not that it represents all that is wrong and pitiable in music - it’s that it represents all that is wrong and pitiable in Canadian television.