Sunday, 25 March 2012

The top 15 English-language television shows of the post-network era? Since 1) I have nothing better to do on a Saturday afternoon besides grade 170 essays and 2) we've been talking about trolls and trolling of late, I thought, "Scott, you should troll your own blog!" So here goes: After watching last night's episode of Fringe and consulting the deep recesses of my nerdy soul, I'm going to declare that Fringe is very close to eclipsing The Wire as the best English-language television show I've ever watched. That final conditional means I'm not going to include shows from the dark days of network television, because I've seen more silent films than I have episodes of Hill Street Blues or Airwolf. Now, I know you're going to complain that Fringe opened as an X-Files clone and didn't evolve into anything interesting until midway through its second season -- when, threatened with cancellation, the writers decided that if they were going to be cancelled, they may as well do so on their own terms -- whereas The Wire's first season was a well-orchestrated slow-burn, and I'm not going to disagree. But what I appreciate about Fringe is that it's become what it is despite itself. Or maybe I'm just being unduly presentist. Either way, here's my list: Fringe (technically 1a) The Wire (technically 1b) Deadwood Buffy the Vampire Slayer Mad Men The first season of Twin Peaks The only season of Firefly Seinfeld Every episode except the series finale of Battlestar Galactica Doctor Who The first and second seasons of Homicide, as well as that episode with Vincent D'Onofrio The UK version of Prime Suspect The first season of the American version of In Treatment The second and final seasons of Angel The UK version of Life on Mars UPDATE: Shows some idiot neglected to include on this list include: Arrested Development; the second, third and fourth seasons of Babylon 5; Breaking Bad; the UK version of The Office; Freaks and Geeks; Leverage; and ... Plus all the ones I forgot or couldn't stomach including, like the Michael Moriarty episodes of Law & Order, which have been retroactively ruined by his crazy Canadian racism. I imagine I've forgotten quite a few, but I'm just as (if not more) interested in discovering and/or being reminded of items not included above.
Mad Men: Sally and Don in "A Little Kiss" (It goes without saying that this is another one of those posts.) First of all, let me begin with what I won't be talking about: race. It's clearly going to be an abiding issue this season–it bookends "A Little Kiss," first as an insensitive tragedy, later as an almost unmangeable farce–but the majority of what comes between these allusions to the Civil Rights movement concerns the demise of almost every relationship in the lives of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce's employees. For example, here's the sole appearance of the former Mrs. Draper: It occurs during the "Previously on Mad Men" introduction, not within the body of the show itself. The current Mrs. Francis exists in this episode as a function of her children, whose own screen time is limited to the first fifteen minutes of the episode–their appearance is significant, however, and as good a place as any to begin looking at "A Little Kiss." Let's start with Sally: She's alone and miserable in a bed that's not her own. The audience doesn't know that, so she merely seems like a child who should have, but hasn't, overcome her night terrors. (The therapy she began last season apparently either failed to take, was never followed up on, or became monopolized by Betty's problems to the extent that the therapist thought she could help Sally more by working through Betty's issues. Too soon to tell.) As I've remarked on multiple occasions–and even diagrammed–hallways are extremely significant on Mad Men, suggestive of the fact that these are shiftless people who are neither entirely sure where they're from anymore (Draper) or that they're trying to own the space between their amorphous origins and designated destinations. But as this episode makes clear on three occasions, this is nothing more than a convenient lie. Here is Draper owning a hallway in "The Suitcase": Here's Sally, half asleep in an unfamiliar apartment, "owning" hers: I don't think I need to draw all over this shot to demonstrate that, like the one above it, there's an operative symmetry to Jennifer Getzinger's direction–nor do I think it's unobvious that Getzinger directed both "The Suitcase" and "A Little Kiss." But in "A Little Kiss" Getzinger undermines the symmetry from "The Suitcase" by having Sally saunter down the hall without occupying the central area of the screen. She doesn't own this hall–she's exploring it. When she finally (and mistakenly) believes she's found her bearings: She finds the bathroom door locked. Because it's not the bathroom door: It's her father's bedroom, and despite Sally and Don being neatly framed between the door jambs, they still don't occupy the central area of the screen. Technically, nothing does, but scan down and the audience can see what Sally shortly will, only not from her perspective yet–the small of Megan's back and the curve of her hips. Something is coming between Draper and the only woman he loves unconditionally, and Sally can see that something's ass: This is one of the rare moments in the...

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