Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Countdown: The 10 Greatest TV Seasons of All Time - #2

Arrested Development - Season 3 - I didn't give much thought to Arrested Development when it first aired on FOX in 2003.  Here was another sitcom starring Jason Bateman that didn't look very promising in the early ads and would probably last three or four episodes before being unceremoniously cancelled.  I tuned in from the pilot episode and was surprised to find that the show was actually pretty entertaining.  It didn't blow my mind, but the cast was superb and the writing was sharp.  But somehow, by the end of the first season, I had come to believe that it was the best comedy on TV.  And by the end of the second season, it was. in my opinion, the best show on TV.  And then the third season was even better.  I can almost understand why the show had poor ratings and was whittled down to cancellation despite drawing rave reviews and winning Emmys.  The characters were frequently terrible people and the humor was dark, often subtle, and usually depended on the audience having seen multiple episodes to get it.  Not to mention the fact that each installment had more confusing, intersecting plot lines than three Seinfelds put together.  But the show snuck up on me (and grew a sizable cult following) so quickly that I didn't know that I was being hooked until it was too late.  Going back and watching the first season again has shown me that Arrested Development arrived pretty much fully-formed.  It is the type of show that grows on you and, even more than The Simpsons, rewards repeat viewing. By the time the third season comes around, the show is chock-full of so many hilarious in-jokes that the writers could have penned entire episodes without an original thought (or at least an original punch-line) and they would be comedy gold from top to bottom.  Season 3 is not everyone's favorite, and it has practically half of the number of episodes that the first two seasons had, but catching up with it again I am convinced that the series was definitely not on the decline and was in fact cut down at the height of its brilliance.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Countdown: The 10 Greatest TV Seasons of All Time - #3

The Simpsons - Season 6 - The Simpsons is the pop cultural touchstone for generations X and Y.  In the show's heyday, which spanned almost an entire decade, the show's influence went beyond the water cooler and into our lives.  Most of us have seen all of the episodes hundreds of times and our brains have become encyclopedias ready with a Simpsons quote for any situation life throws at us.  The series added new words into the English lexicon and spawned comic books, art, video games, music, clothing, a hit film, and books on surprisingly academic topics such as physics, psychology, religion, politics, and philosophy.  And all this from a cartoon spun-off from a sketch-comedy show.  In many ways, The Simpsons is the definitive American television show.  It has the broad premise of a nuclear family living in the suburbs, which allows the writers to poke fun at all aspects of American culture from the education system to holiday celebrations.  Season 6 is the perfect season because, by this point, the animation was honed but had not yet switched to CGI, and the writers had perfected the craft of delivering hilarious scripts that paid equal attention to high-brow and low-brow humor without losing their emotional resonance.