Thursday, December 23, 2010

Countdown: The 10 Greatest TV Seasons of All Time - #7

7. Deadwood - Season 1 - In 1997, HBO revolutionized television drama with Oz, a show set inside a maximum security prison.  Because the series aired on premium cable, it could go places that the networks would never dare.  Oz had nudity, violence, profanity, rape, and most of the characters were vile, detestable people.  And it wasn't just the subject matter that set it apart from pretty much every show ever to air on American TV.  Oz borrowed from the British school of emphasizing quality over quantity by having shorter seasons with focused writing, film-quality direction, and serialized arcs that told stories with a beginning, middle, and end, like chapters of a great novel.  HBO took the Oz model and used it to create the best gangster show of all time (The Sopranos) as well as the best cop show (The Wire) and the best Western show--Deadwood.  The inaugural season of Deadwood tackles large themes--what makes a civilization, death, the existence of God, greed, friendship, loyalty, love--using distinctly profane dialogue that could best be described as Shakespeare by way of David Mamet.  The other two seasons of Deadwood are excellent as well, but season 1 reigns supreme because of the way it introduces the colorful characters and then logically details how they are pushed together to form a society despite their best intentions.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Countdown: The 10 Greatest TV Seasons of All Time - #8

8. Curb Your Enthusiasm - Season 2 - Larry David's influence was felt so heavily during the run of Seinfeld that it often seemed as if he were the fifth cast member.  He co-created the great sitcom, wrote many of the best episodes, voiced the beloved "character" of George Steinbrenner, and provided the basis for the character of George Costanza.  Thus, when the world was deprived of Seinfeld in 1998, it made perfect sense that Larry David would be the one to star in (and write) a show that continued the legacy of "nothing" -- even though he never really acted in anything before.  Striving for a more realistic and brutal sense of humor, David took Curb Your Enthusiasm to HBO, which allowed him to push the boundaries that he could never touch on his previous show.  Curb is amazingly still on the air now 11 years after the initial hour-long mockumentary functioned as a back-door pilot, and it has solidified its status as one of the funniest shows of all time.  There are seasons of Curb that have more of an overall story arc, but season 2 stands out as the best because it contains ten episodes of pure comedic brilliance.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Countdown: The 10 Greatest TV Seasons of All Time - #9

9. Northern Exposure - Season 4 - Northern Exposure premiered in July of 1990, just 3 months after Twin Peaks turned TV upside-down.  And like that groundbreaking show it found an audience almost immediately to the surprise and delight of the nervous executives who rolled it out with a trial season of just eight episodes.  The pilot of Northern Exposure was fresh, smart, and funny as it introduced our hero Joel Fleischman and the lovable residents of fictional Cicely, Alaska.  The cast and crew were all on the same page from the start and Northern Exposure was one of the best shows on television for five and a half seasons - until Rob Morrow left and the series became merely ordinary.  But up until that point, the show was amazingly consistent.  There were no changes to the principal cast and there were no stretches of bad episodes.  Thus, any of the early seasons of the show could have been named on this list of the best seasons in TV history, but I give the nod to season 4 on the strength of its best episodes.