Monday, September 16, 2013

On Breaking Bad and the Best of TV

Last night's pen-penultimate* (yep, just made that word up. deal with it.) episode of Breaking Bad, "Ozymandas," is already being called one of the best episodes of one of the best television shows ever. (And if you haven't seen it, here's a season teaser in which Bryan Cranston reads "Ozymandias".) The show is also anticipated to have one of the best endings ever. I am wholly on board with all the praises being heaped on the show. But it did get me thinking about my version of the all-time best on TV. So following is my semi-annotated and fully-biased list.

Best TV shows:
No comments, just the facts:
  • Breaking Bad
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • Friday Night Lights (I know I said no comments, but if you think it's just about football, you're wrong)

Best multi-season story arcs:
  • Star Trek Deep Space Nine - takes a while to get going, but then the "dark" Trek traces the development of a complex war and its aftermath
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer - character development and a world where everything eventually has consequences; Joss Whedon rules
  • Breaking Bad - look, when the titles of episodes over the course of a season reveal a key event ("Seven Thirty-Seven," "Down," "Over," "ABQ"), you're dealing with a master story teller

And on the flip side, The X-Files is the big loser for utter inability to carry a story arc farther than I could carry the Lone Gunmen. Really, I had a better handle on his mythology than Chris Carter did. (And I say this as a one-time passionate fan. As in, back in the pre-internet days, I used to spend a good part of every Monday morning explaining the previous night's ep to friends and their friends.)

Also, I need to critique Ronald D. Moore here. Even though he oversaw one of the best story arcs ever (DS9), he also blew an amazing story in Battlestar Galactica.

Best Endings:
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation "All Good Things" - bookends the series with another visit from Q, and is ultimately about how crucial it is to keep the important people in your life close. As Picard says, "the sky's the limit."
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer "Chosen" - Kanye West asks, "You got the power to let power go?" Cuz Buffy does.
  • Angel "Not Fade Away" - the faithful viewer is rewarded with some of the most surprising and delightful and heartbreaking moments of character development and resolution
I also fully expect Breaking Bad "FeLiNa" to appear on this list

And on the flip side, The X-Files, "The Truth II" so ruined the series for me that I cannot even go back and watch my favorite episodes. That bad.

In the spirit of Anna Gunn's (Breaking Bad's Skylar White) New York Times op-ed, "I have a character issue," (and posts on similar issues I've written here and here), Best Written Female Characters
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer 
  • Deep Space Nine
  • Prime Suspect
  • Battlestar Galactica - sure, it helps that there were many copies of all the Cylons, but the women here got to be complex and as wonderful and as dumb-headed as the men
*I'm not saying that the women on Breaking Bad, Mad Men, etc. are not well-written, but rather that the women in the shows I've listed here are written in such a way that they don't invite violent hatred from a fanbase. Also see this thoughtful piece in the New Yorker today about how "Ozymandias" specifically speaks back to the type of fan Gunn called out in her op-ed even as it takes responsibility for the existence of such fans.

Best Tackling of Social Issues

  • abortion 90210 - no I don't mean any of the cowardly (yet common) story lines of having a miscarriage on the way to an abortion appointment; I mean the Susan Keats storyline ("Nancy's Choice") in which Brandon's girlfriend shares that she had an abortion the previous year, and that it was the right choice for her and that she has no regrets, even if it did mean the end of a relationship. Pretty basic, really, but for television it's (unfortunately) really radical. (Bonus: Susan is played by a pre-Buffy Emma Caulfield)
  • depression Party of Five - I haven't seen it in years, but at the time Kirsten's depression storyline seemed to me incredibly well done.
  • alcoholism The Bridge - Matthew Lillard harnesses the adolescent mania that made him famous in this trying-to-get-sober journalist, letting the pathos and desperation behind the grown up frat boy mask leak through. I hope he gets other roles based on this one; he's been stunning.
  • pretty much everything on Friday Night Lights - race, disability, class, sex, and yes, football. it's all there.

Best scene of a parent talking to a young woman about sex

  • Giles, Buffy's father figure telling her she has nothing but his respect in "Innocence"*
  • Friday Night Lights' Tammy Taylor to her daughter, Julie, once when she thinks Julie has had sex but has not, and a few years later when Coach Taylor catches Julie and Matt in bed - her talks are an amazing mix of sex-positivity and care and concern and Tammy admitting that part of her reaction has to do with her own changing role in Julie's life

Best Short 'n Sweet (aka "Don't be sad it's over, be glad it happened")

  • Spaced - witness the beginning of the Wright-Pegg-Frost brilliance. and oh, it's co-written by and co-stars a woman, Jessica Stevenson (now Hynes)
  • The Office - UK version, of course
  • Freaks and Geeks
  • Firefly - not the top of my Whedon list, but it did give us Nathan Fillion and an even better movie
  • Square Pegs

Best "I can't believe this is happening on network television"

  • Community (seasons 1-3)
  • Arrested Development
  • It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia - four words: "Mac and Dennis: Manhunters"
  • American Horror Story - ok, maybe FX isn't network television, and I'm not the biggest horror fan, but I love the repertory company thing

Agree? Disagree? Think there's a major oversight in this list? Leave a note in the comments!

*I've been informed that the word is "antepenultimate."

*I just love this scene so much I have to share it in more detail:

When Buffy says, “You must be so disappointed in me” for having sex with Angel, Giles responds, “No, no, I'm not.” He continues:
Do you want me to wag my finger at you and tell you that you acted rashly? You did. And I can. I know that you loved him. And, he ... he's proven more than once that he loved you. You couldn't have known what would happen. The coming months are, are going to be hard, I suspect on all of us. But if it's guilt you're looking for, Buffy, I'm not your man. All you will get from me is my support. And my respect.


Gary M. said...

We're just getting into "Game of Thrones" right now. Give it a try and tell me what you think of it. Someone told me that it's available on Netflix now.

Eve's Apple said...

Way ahead of you! It's quite good, and would have won "most shocking plot developments" a few times over until the most recent Breaking Bad episode.


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