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The Year in Television

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hawaii five-o

I watch the Hawaii Five-O remake on CBS. There, I said it. Now, don’t get me wrong—it’s awful. And I mean awful—Alex O’Loughlin’s Steve McGarrett is a Navy Seal turned head of the 50th state’s special police unit, and he’s joined by former New Jersey cop Danny “Danno” Williams (Scott Caan), falsely accused of corruption ex-cop Chin Ho Kelly (Daniel Dae Kim), and his fresh-out-of-the-academy cousin Kono (Grace Park). It’s utterly shameless, never missing an opportunity to bang the drum for “supporting the troops” in some perfunctory way—such as using the men still trapped in the Arizona as a momentary plot-point of patriotic reflection—or inventing ways to put Park in either a bikini (she used to be a surfer!) or something skimpy and sleazy (undercover infiltrate this female slavery ring!). Absolutely heinous—and I’ve seen every episode that’s aired of this abomination.

Aside from passive masochism, I think I know what tickles me so much about it. While O’Loughlin’s McGarrett and Caan’s Danno are certainly portrayed as heterosexual—McGarrett has a female Navy officer he sometimes hooks up with, Danno has an ex-wife—their buddy cop partnership plays out like the greatest don’t-ask-don’t-tell couple on the small screen. McGarrett makes fun of Danno’s Jersey ways, Danno complains about McGarrett’s casual choices of attire. They needle each other over how they say things, how they choose to do things, why McGarrett is just going to go ahead and take his shirt off and jump in the water. No, really: They’re almost as comically bitchy as Jay Mohr and Scott Wolf in Go. And while there are out gay male couples on TV, they’re ridiculous in other ways: Brothers and Sisters’ Kevin and Scotty exist in that TV make believe where Los Angeles liberals get to be vineyard rich, where everybody drinks almost constantly and nobody gains weight, and when you need comfort from mommy you get to cry on the shoulder of Sally Field.

Hawaii Five-0, though, is on CBS, home to the CSIs, the NCISs, the Survivors—you know, those shows you start watching when you’ve just given up on life. So while I’m sure for some of its estimated 3 million viewers, Hawaii Five-0 is an entertaining update of a classic TV show, for me it’s a weekly dose of military/cop gay love being beamed into the flyover states at a time when the U.S. Senate has to talk about whether it’s OK for gay soldiers to die for their country as openly gay soldiers. To each his own. For some, Glenn Beck is a teller of truths; to others, he’s a bloviating fuckstain. But then, that’s what television’s for, isn’t it? That mass-market spectacle from which you can take whatever you want. It’s not TV; it’s U.S.A. (Bret McCabe)


1 The Good Wife (CBS)

Intrigue has been a plot factor since the get-go as Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) navigates life after the ugly public betrayal of her state’s attorney husband Peter (Chris Noth), but now that he’s campaigning to win back the position, Alicia is surrounded by political games from all sides. Her law firm divides up in new ways nearly every week with the addition of a new partner and another investigator—whom Kalinda (the brilliant Archie Panjabi) either wants to kill or fuck. Slick Cary (Matt Czuchry) returns as a lawyer for the other team. The Florrick kids use social media to see too much and fuck shit up. And Alicia’s boss Will (Josh Charles) continues to push her lovely wool-covered suit buttons. (Wendy Ward)

2 Breaking Bad (AMC)

Fans of this show—as in, the friends that we talked to—about a terminal cancer-afflicted high-school science teacher turned meth cooker and drug dealer split the vote on the fly episode (No. 10). The tense, seemingly going nowhere 40-odd minutes of Walt (the amazing Bryan Cranston) and his cooking partner Jesse (also amazing Aaron Paul) versus a fly proved the show refuses to deal viewers an easy hand. This season ups the ante with Walt’s wife Skyler (Anna Gunn) and her increasingly moral ambiguity, Walt’s chicken-king boss appearing as frightening as those twin assassins, and DEA agent Hank (Dean Norris) and his recovery offering more tension-breaking lines that remind you Breaking Bad is the best dark comedy there ever was. Ever. (WW)

3 Louie (F/X)

Louis C.K. was part of the legendary Boston comedy club scene in the 1980s, and he has written for Conan O’Brien’s, Chris Rock’s, and David Letterman’s shows as well as being the man responsible for the movie Pootie Tang. He created a bleak series called Lucky Louie for HBO, which was a depressing version of The Honeymooners. Experience as a standup comedian along with life as a divorced dad is the foundation of Louie, and there seems to be no filter between thought and what makes it onto the screen, and it is compelling and honest and the funniest show on television. (Joe MacLeod)

4 Mad Men (AMC)

It’s almost inexplicable how Don Draper lubed up the cultural consciousness with Brylcreem (they’re over at Cutler Gleason and Chaough), slid right in there, and hasn’t slipped out by now. This season’s startup drama was apparently supposed to distract from the fact that Sad Don isn’t nearly as compelling as Mad Don. And it did, more or less, but Ms. Olson’s semi-wild ride through the mid-1960s, Pete Campbell’s bitchface, Sally effin’ Draper, and some of the sharper character writing on the tube today—along with some of the most hail-Mary plotting—certainly helped. (Lee Gardner)

5 Sons of Anarchy (F/X)

If you are not up to speed on the machinations of America’s favorite band of outlaw motorcycle enthusiasts, run along and watch the first two seasons, otherwise you will not be properly vetted for exposure to this year’s murderous antics, which are quite frankly degenerating into the realm of gags, kinda like what happened with HBO’s Oz after about three seasons, but whatever, tune in for shit-hot young biker Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam) as he struggles with identity and ethics, and hang around and watch his mom Gemma (Katey Sagal) get in and out of scrapes that would send a mama grizzly into deep hibernation. (JM)

6 30 Rock (NBC)

It’s not the neurotic Liz Lemon and her cute/funny/crazy ex-boyfriends, appetite, biological clock ticking, or relatable sense of stupid humor that keep us tuned in to 30 Rock’s fifth season, it’s her fucking awesome job. Cobbling together a craptastic Saturday Night Live-type show while babysitting the charismatic, ego-simplistic stars Tracy (Tracy Jordan) and Jenna (Jane Krakowski) and dealing with her inconsistently funny but always hilarious writing staff (hello Judah Friedlander) and codependent producer (Scott Adsit: call me) all under the watchful eye of the best/worst mentor a girl could ever have (Alec Baldwin) just doesn’t get old. Hey Liz: tradesies? (Wendy Ward)

7 30 for 30: The Two Escobars (ESPN)

Since it premiered in October 2009, ESPN’s series of sports documentaries has delivered some wonderful television: Ice Cube’s Straight Outta LA, June 17, 1994, Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. the New York Knicks. But with The Two Escobars—which follows the 1994 World Cup run of Colombia’s football team through the intertwined lives of defender Andrés Escobar and (no relation) drug lord Pablo Escobar—the series hit a poignant peak, showing how politics, sports, and national pride can swell to intoxicating highs and spiral into tragic lows. Unforgettable. (BM)

8 Party Down (Starz)

The greatest comedy series of 2010 was on Starz, which means a tiny fraction of nobody saw it, leading to its cancellation shortly after its second season. It was so obscure that this teeny blurb has to try to explain what it was as well as how great. OK, so: cater-waiters in Hollywood, creative dreams deferred, a genius cast (Adam Scott, Lizzy Caplan, Ken Marino, Martin Starr, Jane Lynch), and the sort of writing and characters and plotting and acting that elevate mere gags to comedy heaven. It was funny in precisely all the ways that Entourage is not, and if you can’t find the DVDs, pretty much the whole thing appears to be up on YouTube, two minutes at a time. (LG)

9 Luther (BBC)

Idris Elba co-produced and starred in this six-episode BBC series about a London detective a bit psychologically tender after, perhaps, doing nothing so that a pedophile could fall to his death. Not helping are the psychotic killer who slips through his investigative fingers (Ruth Wilson), the wife (Indira Varma) who wants to leave him, and the co-workers who aren’t sure if he’s back on his game or on his way to being completely off his rocker. Incredibly well-acted—Elba plays DCI John Luther like a cross between Cracker’s self-destructive intuitive investigator and a man looking for any shard of meaning to hold on to—and series creator/writer Neil Cross slips in a wonderful curveball into the series for its final two episodes. (BM)

10 The Big C (Showtime)

The season finale seals the deal here. This half-hour comedy-drama about a suburban Minnesota housewife/mom (Laura Linney) diagnosed with cancer in the first episode felt a little emotionally stunted the entire season. Sure, Linney is superb as the woman so rattled by the diagnosis she shields it from her estranged husband (Oliver Platt) and teenaged son (Gabriel Basso) and appears to behave erratically, but even Linney’s pitch-perfect leaps from denial to joy, anger to understanding, felt a little too schematic. And then her son discovered the storage unit she’s been filling (offscreen) the entire time, where a mother has frantically tried to cram a lifetime of birthdays, graduations, proms, weddings, and big moments into what little time she thinks she has left, and the waterworks turn on something fierce. (BM)

  • The Year In News It was the year of the “enthusiasm gap,” and not just as applied to the long-over honeymoon between President Obama and all but his most ardent admirers. | 12/8/2010
  • The Year in Film Though only one cracked into City Paper’s Top 10 list, 2010’s cinematic cup runneth over with top-notch documentaries—and not just the Michael Moore, Errol Morris, An Inconvenient Truth sort of zeitgeist-baiting nonfiction. Instead, smaller, more intima | 12/8/2010
  • The Year in DVDs Max Ophuls’ 1955 Lola Montes endured many of the same heartbreaks and indignities as its title character: misunderstood, manipulated, abused, and abandoned. | 12/14/2010
  • The Year in Television I watch the Hawaii Five-O remake on CBS. There, I said it. Now, don’t get me wrong—it’s awful. | 12/8/2010
  • The Year in Music In years past, City Paper has looked to its freelance contributors to vote in its annual Top 10 records poll. This year, we looked to Baltimore instead. | 12/8/2010
  • The Year in Local Music The record label Thrill Jockey is not based in Baltimore. Nor is City Paper on the Thrill Jockey payroll. | 12/8/2010
  • The Year in Books In years past we’ve polled City Paper’s book reviewers for their 10 favorite books of the year and threaded a list together from their input. | 12/8/2010
  • The Year in Art Unlike last year’s Laure Drogoul: Follies, Predicaments and Other Conundrums at the Maryland Institute College of Art or 2008’s Franz West, To Build a House You Start With the Roof: Work 1972-2008 at the Baltimore Museum of Art, there wasn’t one exhibitio | 12/8/2010
  • The Year in Stage The year in local stage is bookended by a pair of DIY transitions. | 12/8/2010
  • The Year in Food When we try to count our blessings in precarious years, we invariably include good health in our shortened list. | 12/8/2010
  • The Year In... City Paper's writers go beyond the categories and pick even more top tens | 12/8/2010
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