Tuesday, January 01, 2008

2007: Ten Hours

First a desultory top 10 8 albums of the year, though with a nota bene: I don't think I've been this disinterested in putting together a year-end list in recent memory. That doesn't have anything to do with the quality of the year's releases; rather, my media priorities and critical attention have shifted unequivocally towards teevee, and I haven't felt the urge to keep up my indie cred as years past. This list makes no claims as to comprehensiveness:

  1. Electrelane - No Shouts, No Calls *

  2. The Angelic Process - Weighing Souls With Sand
    "Million Year Summer"

  3. Eluvium - Copia
    "After Nature"

  4. Mira Calix - Eyes Set Against the Sun

  5. Colleen - Les Ondes Silencieuses
    "Sun Against My Eyes"

  6. Feist - The Reminder 1234
    "My Moon My Man"

  7. PJ Harvey - White Chalk
    "White Chalk"

  8. Boris with Merzbow - Rock Dream

  9. "Feedbacker"

* The Electrelane ménage -- krautrock and gorgeous melodies -- hooks up with sweet, heartbroken lyrics. Much rejoicing. (Come back, Electrelane! -ed.)

An ambient record you have to listen to, spacious and intimate. The key is to disappear into the waves...

Never heard anything so loud.

Nothing wrong with Peej doing pretty, especially as a Civil War ghost.

Baltharian reveries on the Cylon baseships.

1234 Geddit?

Cheating, sure (i.e. Pink live!), but I finally get Merzbow now, he just needs to play behind a hardcore punk-metal trio shredding out the best post-Motörhead long-player ever. (Nb. the linked video isn't with Merzbow -- you'll just have to imagine the track with more industrial noise.)

The most pummeling quiet record -- ever?

Enough of the music bollocks, here's the TV

If you're a regular reader, you probably have picked up my contrarian views which, I'll admit, are sometimes (oftentimes?) blatant provocations, playing the devil's advocate just for its own sake. And one of the unstated assumptions that underlies this blog (and explains the amount of energy I put into it) is that tv land always has quality, it's not the underachieving wasteland that various cultural sentinels would have you believe it is. Critics who complain about any given year's quality are these dour sentinels, or else they're deluged by the sheer volume of mediocrity that's unavoidable in any medium, and I have little time for their opinions.

That said, I compiled the 10 Best Hours of 2007 with difficulty, though to avoid historical revisionism, I had a hard time doing it last year, too. Part of the reason is that the new shows mostly disappointed (though I swear to God, Reaper delivered on its promise), while the old favorites either stumbled along during Fall 2007 (which piled additional detritus onto the sublimity of Spring 2007 that I had to mentally sort through) (also, the strike didn't help, but we'll probably never know just what could have been if things had been business as usual), or skipped this year altogether, whether by HBO's strategized scheduling practices (you guessed it, The Wire) or because their runs simply ended (Teen Titans, Justice League Unlimited).

And sometimes I'm just behind the curve. Just this year, I've caught up (and I'm still catching up) on no fewer than 5 shows of which I'm now an entrenched fan, and no doubt I'll still be discovering new shows. But for the moment, if I could propose an amended 10 hours from 2006, they'd look something like this (new entrants bolded):

10. Justice League Unlimited, "The Great Brain Robbery" (5x08)
9. Friday Night Lights, "Pilot" (1x01)
8. Survivor: Cook Islands, "People That You Like Want To See You Suffer" (13x10)
7. Heroes, "Fallout" (1x11)
6. Teen Titans, "Things Change" (5x13)
5. Lost, "Live Together, Die Alone" (2x23)
4. Veronica Mars, "Not Pictured" (2x22)
3. Battlestar Galactica, "Resurrection Ship, Part 2" (2x11)
2. America's Next Top Model Cycle 6, "The Girl Who is Going to the Moon" (6x09)
1. The Wire, "Final Grades" (4x13)

Given that almost half of my top 10 of 2006 got turned over, anything I put together for 2007 is destined to be no less temporary. (And let's not forget that we're talking about tv here, that gloriously ephemeral and intangible medium -- at least it was before the DVD, which, like the edenic serpent, introduced to it the death of permanence and respectability, but that's another matter).

But the real reason a list of 10 was hard this year and probably will always be hard is that for all the tv I watch, I don't watch enough to compile awesome episodes from 10 different shows, which is sort of reflected in my year-end music list as well. I don't have enough time to watch that much tv, I don't have cable, I'm afraid of getting hooked on shameless trash (like, say, The OC), I don't believe in the concept of a canon -- whatever combination of these reasons is the case, I don't come close to comprehensiveness, and so if you ever read me saying "this year was a bad year in tv," feel free to launch a projectile of your choice (I suggest: a football) towards my groin.

Which is all to say that the following list is a project of simple vanity. Just because I include certain shows on an arbitrary list doesn't make them more legitimate or better than anything anyone else watches (even if I make claims to the contrary -- remember, I'm an admitted hypocrite). In addition to the vanity, a top 10 lets me reflect on some shows, to work through why I enjoyed them, with perhaps a dash of evangelism for the more ratings-challenged ones.

Finally, I should state that despite the anti-canon equivocations of the preceding paragraphs, the top five includes episodes that sent me into ecstasy -- whether of the unadulterated variety or the kind that involves endorphin-releasing schadenfreude -- enough so that 2007 was a great tv year, however you slice it.

(Nb. I realize that one of the entrants below is actually two hours, but for the sake of symmetry, shut up.)

10. So You Think You Can Dance, Week 1, Top 20 Dancers Perform (3x06; FOX, 6/13/07)
The overall talent level, if not the choreography, was exponentially better than years past, and all the promise offered by the dancers was nearly as exciting as anything they actually did. Also, this was kinda hot, and a certain host put the "cat" into "lolcat."

9. Project Runway Canada, "Opposites Attract" (1x06; Slice, 11/12/07)
Just as you'd expect, the Canuck version of Runway doesn't have the same bite as its southern cousin since, as we all know, Canadians are scientifically more polite than Yankees, which, when it comes to reality tv, is to sadly blander effect. (I can make this un-PC generalization because I watched an episode -- one whole episode! -- of Canada's Next Top Model.) For instance, Evan Biddell, the show's self-styled heavy, slimmed down from his pre-Runway weight of 300 pounds, then bit off the catchphrase of an infinitely more colorful American Runway contestant. Some heavy!

Yet, the most notable trump card that Runway Maple Leaf holds over Runway Crying Eagle is its host, Iman. While Runway Canada kicked off with as much empty space and personality as the Northwest Territories, Mrs. David Bowie single-handedly raised her version above any stereotypical and expected Canadian blandness. Iman owns the whole show in a way that Heidi -- bless her always-smiling Teutonic femmebotness -- never has. Iman informed the designers of their upcoming challenges and all eyes were of course on her. Her hosting style was uncompromising as she takes her sweet time with her line readings. Where Heidi bids farewell to eliminated contestants with the impersonal "auf Wiedersehen," Iman tells them what's up, "You just didn't measure up." But it was in the sixth episode of the season that she at last decided to utterly dominate the show, letting loose with charisma, humor, and an effortless strength of opinion that is captivating.

In fact, she almost single-handedly raised the show's game at the opening of the show when she reminded everyone that she can still bring the woah:

I haven't seen someone work the shadows like this since Sydney Bristow. It's safe to say that she'll always be an elegant lady.

Additionally, there was Marie Genevieve, whose French(-Canadian) accent drives me nuts.


She also combines my two favorite things: glasses, and white girls.

8. Bones, "Mummy in the Maze" (3x05; FOX, 10/30/07)
Even if I never remember the procedural bits, Temperance Brennan makes science and empiricism sexy.

7. John From Cincinnati, "His Visit: Day Five" (1x06; HBO, 7/15/07)
The most thrillingly weird moment on TV since the first season finale of Twin Peaks. Prepare yourselves.

Sure, this scene is pure spectacle that pointed to mythological depths at the time but instead opened up a can of worms that ultimately turned out bottomless -- but sometimes payoff is unnecessary. Some things just can't be expressed yet remain beautiful all the same. If you can let yourself be enticed by the unanswerable mystery, the unfettered unknowable, and unbounded possibility, then you'll have stumbled onto the allure of the ineffable. It's a vastness which, if I were the grandiloquent type, I'd call God. (Also if I were a blasphemer.)

Oh, and who can forget this sparkling performance? Camp (albeit unintentional) and weirdness -- John From Cincinnati really is the Twin Peaks for the '00s.

6. Reaper, "The Cop" (1x08; The CW, 11/13/07)
Remember how I'm never wrong? Still the best new show of the season. Yes, a lot of Reaper's own viewers have cited the show's uneven tone or its meandering master narrative, but I could barely care less and I'm still not wrong. Look, if I acknowledge every one of my mistakes, that'd make for exceedingly dull reading. Like our own beloved president, never admit to error! So here's how I reason my way out of this quandary: for me, nearly any narrative deficiency can be compensated for by hilarious wit, especially the sophomoric variety, which Reaper has no problem with. As a for instance, peep this. (Start at about 8:30.)

5. Survivor: Fiji, "It's a Turtle!" (14x10; CBS, 4/19/07)
In Fiji, the lines drawn in the sand split the would-be survivors into two principle camps: the players I adored -- Yau-Man and Earl -- and the players I hated -- Alex and Mookie, who liked to figuratively flex their muscles and kick sand in the face of slight professor Yau-Man. (There was a third camp, the people I couldn't care less about, but that describes exactly how much energy I want to spend on them.) Alex was a piece of work inside and outside the game, but I loathed Mookie, whose defining moment came two episodes earlier, during a projectiles-throwing challenge, when he ridiculed Yau-Man's unorthodox technique which, of course, had the weight of science behind it as he pwned Mookie (start at about 2:30 for the goods -- don't miss his shock and dismay that a skinny old dude could manage to outperform him). That instant crystallized the jockish presumption that typified Alex and Mookie, and when they thuggishly tried to strategize against Yau-Man and Earl and dubbed themselves (along with Dreamz and Edgardo) something as junior-high pimply as "the Four Horsemen" (of what? Delusionally Inflated Ego and Pathetic Macho Dick-Swinging?), their plans obviously and completely unraveled with the frothiest layer of schadenfreude ever on Survivor. The bad guys don't always get their comeuppance in reality tv -- much less reality qua reality -- but when it does, there's nothing sweeter.

Also, Boo's FLOZ hat is destined to be the enduring mystery of our times.

4. Friday Night Lights, "Mud Bowl" (1x20; NBC, 3/28/07)
Season two has made me reconsider the fabled first season's naturalism, which is more accurately Naturalism since the situations so often were larger than life and their consequent outcomes concluded neatly by preternatural maturity (which season two tried to complicate by rolling back and/or conveniently forgetting a lot of character growth). But scratch the substance and you reach the show's real meat, its style. Don't let the vérité influences and flourishes fool you, because they're precisely the point, and did "Mud Bowl" ever bring the ruckus: Of course Dillon was going to win its regular season finale to go on to the State Championship, which would've been predictable and lifeless if the moment was anything less than heart-stopping and epic. A neutral site built days before the game. A torrential storm torn straight from YHWH's Old Testament wrath. Motherfucking Isis. Boys entering the crucible of flooded ash and the annihilation of all ego, and emerging men of character. And a television show transcending the shackles of substance and into the realm of pure aesthetics.

3. Heroes, ".07%" (1x19; NBC, 4/23/07)
Wherein Nate loses out on Linderman's pot pie, and the show's nerd quotient goes through the roof. I never plotzed so much.

2. 30 Rock, "Greenzo"/"Somebody to Love" (2x05, 2x06; NBC, 11/8/07, 11/15/07)
See what I did there? Together, not only were these two episodes the most riotous consecutive weeks in sitcom history (not even God, if She were a divine comedy Supercomputer with all eternity to write half-hour laff-fests, could come close to the hilarity), but they also add up to one hour! I'm smart, like Al Gore.

1. Veronica Mars, "The Bitch is Back" (3x20; The CW, 5/22/07)
Loathe as I am to admit it, the fans were partly right, the third season was the least of the three. Yet for all the foul cries and spurned oaths, Veronica Mars was never a categorically bad show. Season three shifted its method; instead of one grand mystery, the season was split into three abbreviated mystery arcs (though in the end, that last arc got chopped even further into mostly standalone episodes so the CW could look for Pussycat Dolls), and as a result, the show's scope and focus consequently suffered. Not much, mind, but enough to throw fan nation into a frothy spaz.

Yet all that was erased when Veronica Mars and her father Keith became mired in a sex tape and election scandal in the Veronica Mars episode ever. Their fates were never so much in doubt, and the show was never so uncompromisingly urgent, its status quo never so ruthlessly overturned -- all of which would have still applied even if the season finale hadn't officially become the de facto series finale. Leaving the Marses -- heretofore the most self-sufficient and self-composed father-daughter duo ever to grace network tv, I'd gather -- dangling over this network show's most dangerous and uncompromising knife-edge (a show which, on a regular basis, dealt frankly with teen sex, teen drug use, and teen angst) to no resolution was as cruel of a kick in the teeth as the agony that Keith and Veronica suffered.

Just a warning: Next year, if you're still reading and I'm still blogging, expect to see an all-Wire top 10.

Indie rating: Electrelane - "Saturday"

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