Sunday, January 6, 2008

2007 Recap: Travis Yanan's Favorite Episodes (50-41)

It was SO not an intelligent decision to start doing this list on an eve of new television (The Amazing Race, The Simpsons, Desperate Housewives, and American Dad... and, yes, I might tune into Cashmere Mafia but mostly to see what changed between the pilot I saw eight months ago and the for-air version... because that pilot was pretty excreable). I'm delaying my viewing of The Wire (sacrilege!) until I've rewatched the entirety of the first four seasons. I'm almost done with season two, so it won't be long. Definitely will be caught up around by episode 3 or 4 of this season.

But now is not a time to discuss 2008's television.

50. 24, "Day 6: 9:00 AM - 10:00 AM" (originally aired January 15, 2007). Ah, the beginning of the end. The two-night, four-hour premiere of 24's sixth season was riddled in stock characters, bad acting, and wooden dialogue (note to casting directors: no more D.B. Woodside). But, FOX marketing machine be damned, they really did have a jaw-dropping cliffhanger at the end of the fourth hour. Not necessarily a development for the show, and in fact I'd pin the nuclear detonation of Valencia as the classic "jump the shark" moment (especially because, twelve hours later when the show became about the Chinese government, something little like a nuke killing 12,000 people was long forgotten). In any case, I have a mantra that I will repeat throughout this Top 50: bad developments coming after effective plot twists don't mean the plot twist was a bad thing (see, eventually, the Grey's Anatomy ferry crash arc). This episode also brought us Jack Bauer's slaying of Curtis (a sorely missed Roger Cross) in a last-minute attempt to find said nuke. The editing in the scene in the warehouse right before the explosion? Absolutely amazing. Between the look on the random suburban husband's face as he, while helplessly bound and unable to do anything but yell, saw an almost-dead terrorist activate the nuke to the look of devastation on Jack's face in the final moments before the clock rang out over black... it just worked. Even if it jumped the shark.

49. Ugly Betty, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (originally aired March 22, 2007). Note to the current writing staff of Ugly Betty (er, whenever this strike issue is settled): this is how to do an episode of your show. There's pathos, there's telenovela goings-on going on, and it's hilarious. It's not drowning in sorrow the way much of the second season has been. The main plot of the episode revolves around the aftermath of Claire (Judith Light) admitting that she murdered Fey Sommers, and being sent to jail (releasing Bradford, who was previously accused of the crime). But the real joy of this episode is the deepening of Marc St. James' character with the introduction of his mother, who doesn't know he's gay. He uses Betty as his "girlfriend"/beard, and hilarity ensues. He eventually comes out (and his mother rejects him) in one of the show's more touching moments... because it's grounded in reality. Also, Justin rewinding a newscast of Betty trying to avoid reporters' questions about the Meade shenanigans and walking into a wall of a bus shelter is just hilarious.

48. Family Guy, "Stewie Kills Lois/Lois Kills Stewie" (originally aired November 4, 2007 and November 11, 2007). While the end of this arc was not satisfying, no matter how hard the show tried to laugh off the dream sequence/computer simulation/reset button ending (and, really, the swipe at the finale of The Sopranos would've been funnier had the joke not been used to more comedic effect two months earlier in the Family Guy musical number that opened the Emmys), that doesn't take away from the journey it took us on. Ridiculous violence is one of the things this show does best (see "Patriot Games" with Stewie as Brian's loan shark), and these episodes brought it in spades.

47. House, "Airborne" (originally aired April 10, 2007). House solves the case of a spreading mystery illness while on an airplane. WHILE ON AN AIRPLANE. The illness turned out to be mass hysteria caused by one passenger having decompression sickness and Cuddy alarming people that there might be viral Meningococcus spreading. Which is kind of lame as far as House mystery illnesses go, but totally worth it for the sequence when House assigned Chase's, Foreman's, and Cameron's personalities to random people on the airplane (they are told to agree with him, disagree with him, and get morally outraged by all of his decisions). The fact that Dr. House, supposedly one of the best diagnosticians in the world, needed this makeshift team around him to really function was great foreshadowing for the effect firing a member of said team (and having the rest resign) would take on him. It did make his use of a janitor in "Alone" (the fourth-season premiere) a tad redundant, but I'm pretty certain that episode was meant to be an awkward springboard into the game of Survivor House set up.

46. Damages, "Because I Know Patty" (originally aired October 23, 2007). I enjoyed Damages. I really did. But I found it very difficult to figure out which, if any, episode should make the Top 50. That's the "problem" with such a serialized show, I suppose. None of the episodes, to me, were ever really about a particular thing except asking more questions and giving some answers about the Big Mystery. So, I chose the finale, which answered questions about who tried to have Ellen killed, finished the Frobisher case, gave us some really meaty Patty scenes, and provided a nice hint at what was coming next. Whenever the writers' strike is done, the series has been picked up for two more seasons. I hope the writers can figure out a way for the next two stories to not lag as much in the middle.

45. Desperate Housewives, "The Little Things You Do Together" (originally aired February 18, 2007). Desperate Housewives had to abruptly finish off the Bree/Orson/Alma storyline thanks to Marcia Cross's bed-rest orders, and this was the end of it. This episode featured the opening of the Scavos' pizzeria (which was nicely forced to use chairs from various neighbors thanks to a screwed up stool order... nothing says neighborhood pizzeria like sitting in your own chair), two wedding proposals (and the awkwardness that was the brief Zach/Gabrielle relationship), and a death. DH is at it's best when it is darkly comic, and that can certainly be said of how Alma Hodge's life ended. She finally escapes the attic she was locked in, only to fall off the roof when trying to get someone's attention. And, of course, the massive confrontation that was, like, every member of the Hodge/Van De Kamp family versus Gloria Hodge, Orson's maniacal, murderous mother. It was a quick wrap up due to outside circumstances and the third season didn't recover minus the best housewife (sorry, Felicity Huffman, Marcia wins my vote), but there's just so much delicious justice to be found in an old woman having a stroke and being trapped with her sins in her body, alone, with no loved ones thanks to her deceitful actions. The image Orson forcing the paralyzed, but conscious, head of Gloria to watch him walk away from her, forever, was powerful stuff.

44. South Park, "Imaginationland" (originally aired October 17, 2007, October 24, 2007, and October 31, 2007). Only on South Park will you ever find an ethical dilemma like the US Government pondering sending a nuclear missile at "our imaginations" because terrorists hijacked them. Perhaps I'm a little sick in the head, or maybe it's just my own personal love of desensitization to violence (hey, I didn't write it), but the beating of Strwberry Shortcake followed by the reintroduction of the Woodland Critters suggested they flay and rape her (in part two) was just pure heaven. Throw in Al Gore, ManBearPig, and Cartman's relentless mission to get Kyle to suck his dry balls and you have one freaking hilarious, weird-ass trilogy.

43. Friday Night Lights, "Mud Bowl" (originally aired March 28, 2007). This show is not about football, and yet it is about football. Coach's speech about the love of the game resonated on so many levels... and being from a North Eastern suburb, I've never understood why or how high school football can become commercialized, so yay on Coach Taylor for teaching us all a lesson about football and alternative uses for cow pastures. There's some great cinematography in this episode. And I still can't even talk about the Tyra/Landry plot. And that's the problem with shows that are so real you can feel it.

42. Chuck, "Chuck Versus the Nemesis" (originally aired November 26, 2007). The NBC marketing machine hyped this episode as "the episode that changes everything" and while it was an interesting twist that they brought Bryce Larkin back from the dead, I couldn't help but feel a tad less overwhelmed than I should have. Mostly because from the moment he died in the pilot (and remember, I first watched the pilot in May) I figured there was no way you waste a fine actor like Matt Bomer on that opening scene. No way he was perma-dead. Still, this episode was action- and twist-heavy, which more than made up for the non-shock of Bryce's resurrection. For once, though, my favorite parts of the episode were at the Buy More. The Black Friday preparations, Morgan's manning-up, Big Mike, "pineapple"... I know they can't stage the final showdowns (or even midway showdowns) of the spy adventures in the Buy More in every episode, but it was nice to have it so fully integrated.

41. Dirty Sexy Money, "The Watch" (originally aired November 28, 2007). I am not the biggest fan of Dirty Sexy Money. I think that with all the talent on the show, it could be so much more than it is. I hate that instead of being this big, over-the-top, glamorous soap in the tradition of Dallas, it tries to mock the serio-comic tone that pervades ABC hour-longs. I also hated that the show, in episode four, introduced a plotline about a bastard Darling from the affair between Letitia and Nick's dad, Dutch. Introduced the plotline and proceeded to have Tish tell Tripp who the bastard was, off-screen. In the middle of an episode. And then the plot was dropped. And now, suddenly, it's back in full force a month-plus later. So we find out that Brian is the bastard, is Nick's half-brother (which makes sense, dramatically, because of how Brian deals with Nick... with utter abhorrence). Nick gives Brian his dad's watch. And we have the legitimately touching end of the Brian/Brian's illegitimate son Brian Jr./Gustav plot, in which Brian waves goodbye to the son he never wanted then grew to love, and gives him the watch. Really well done stuff. So much better than the previous week's "let's make an entire episode out of people having meetings with each other."

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