Thursday, December 29, 2005

2005 Geek of the Year: Dan Rather

He stood behind forged documents. He arrogantly refused to apologize. And Dan Rather paid with his gig, tarnishing an entire news division in the process.

Mr. Rather, it's no mistake that the ratings for The CBS Evening News started ticking up the day after you "stepped down" (before you were kicked). You were always uncomfortable to watch, despite your attempt at humanity with those silly "Ratherisms" ("This race is shakier than cafeteria Jell-O!"). The fact that Americans prefer the nameless, faceless Bob Schieffer to you says a whole lot.

So, bestows upon you, Mr. Rather, the ultimate honor (or, more accurately, diss): You are our 2005 Geek of the Year.

Enjoy your imminent retirement. I know we will.

Honorable Mention:

Martha Stewart: Her comeback wasn't all it was cracked up to be: her two TV shows were disappointments (Martha has attracted mediocre numbers, and The Apprentice Martha Stewart, was an absolute ratings fiasco). Even the unauthorized TV movie about her (Martha Behind Bars) sucked. Guess that trip to jail was really for nothing.

Anyone involved with Saturday Night Live: Lorne, listen up: it's over. Really. I don't care what the ratings say. Of course, NBC does, and will probably renew you guys for another 30 years. Feh.

Pat O'Brien: You know, I remember thinking earlier in the year that the biz was missing a good old fashioned perv. Thanks, Pat, for filling the void.

2005 Geekies: Alias, Worst Show

OK, this is a tough one. There’s so much pap on television- who could sort through it all to pick the show that’s truly tops in its ungodly horrendousness? Naming the unwatchable Hope and Faith or the stillborn Inconceivable would be like shooting fish in a barrel. Picking daytime filler like The Tony Danza Show would feel like a copout. There are plenty of more ambitious disasters to sift through.

Sure, I could select shows like The Tonight Show with Jay Leno or any SportsCenter featuring Stuart Scott, both for pandering to an audience of unsophisticated sots. I could knock Showtime for actually making people pay to see Fat Actress; ditto HBO for The Comeback.

Heck, I’m even tempted to select Will and Grace or ER simply for still being on the air.

Alas, my choice is none of those, although they would nicely round out a Top Ten List of Heinosity. No, my choice is a show that was once one of the most creative on television; one with complex storylines, terrific acting, and a sexy attitude that just wouldn’t quit.

It was a show that took us in several directions at once, and even reinvented itself a couple of times, with consistently spectacular results. For its first three seasons, it never reached breakout hit status, but consistently seemed poised to do so.

That is, until season 4, when it began to suck. It ditched most of its continuing storylines, opting for a largely week-to-week approach to lure in more viewers. And it got them, although it was obviously due to its monster lead-in Lost, which, ironically, it lost this year. This proved to be the final nail in the coffin.

I’m talking, of course, about Alias. Before Jennifer Garner’s awful taste in baby’s daddies became apparent. Before they killed off the characters long-time fans dug (Vaughn, Nadia). Before the storylines became so incomprehensible we didn’t even care that they added a hot blonde to the show to replace a tubbed-out, knocked-up J-Fleck.

In season five, announced to be the last, I can barely make it through an entire episode. I have no idea what’s happening, and frankly don’t care. I was ready to bail completely before they announced the show had been axed; now I’m torn on whether I should stick around to see their big finish.

But in retrospect, the real finish was Season 3, episode 22. It was that lost memory cliffhanger, one that was never truly taken advantage of. And the show never recovered. I’ll never get back the time I spent in the last season and a half watching, waiting for something, anything interesting to happen. Maybe, I, too, can have my memory erased- of the last two seasons of the show, anyway. That would leave me with fond memories of Alias, instead of the bitter feeling of resentment I now possess.

So, J.J., that's my debriefing. Now pack up those pink wigs and go.

It's time.

Honorable Mention

Hope & Faith:
That Ted McGinley sure is consistent.

Inconceivable: How did this one make it out of the pitch meeting?

The Comeback: God awful, train wreck pseudo-reality TV.

2005 Geekies: House, Best Show

OK, so I’m growing tired of procedurals. And really, who isn't? The CSI’s, the L&O’s, the spinoffs, the knockoffs. Sure, they still have their moments, but in the end, you know McCoy is gonna nail that murderer or Griss will solve another impossible case using epithelials, a matchstick, and his guile. Nothing new there.

I also despise medical shows. From the ham-handed emotional manipulations of ER to the cloying sentimentality of Chicago Hope, I’ve avoided them like a mysterious ailment TV doctors spend 44 minutes trying to cure, that is, while they’re not tending to plane crashes or saving drowning children from storm drains. (That’s drama!)

So it was pretty shocking to me when, a full year after its premiere, word of mouth got me hooked on a medical procedural, of all things. It was a drama as formulaic as it comes- victim gets The Big Sick in opening scene, superdocs spend the remaining five acts searching for The Big Cure. Big deal.

But this show takes the cliché one step further: its main character is an addict, a loner, a rebel without cause or care for anyone but himself. Straight out of page twelve of the Formulaic Drama Handbook, this ensures plenty of forced conflict, purportedly witty banter, and sexual tension.

Bottom line: this show should suck. And suck hard.

But this is House we’re talking about here. It’s brilliantly acted. Terrifically written. And witty enough to succeed despite its totally pedestrian format. Supporters Omar Epps, Lisa Edelstein, Robert Sean Leonard, Jesse Spencer, and Jennifer Morrison all play perfect foils (despite Morrison’s vests- why can’t she shed a layer once in a while?) to the brilliant Hugh Laurie, who somehow never lets his British accent slip through (a particular peeve of mine- Without a Trace, anyone?).

In short, this operation is a complete success. I wish House a long, healthy life- as healthy, at least, as the anemic ER, which should have been euthanized by NBC years ago.

Add it to the bang ‘em up potboiler Prison Break and the always entertaining (and ridiculous) 24, and Fox is really churning out some of the best drama on television. A bitter pill to swallow for the other webs, but one I’m more than happy to swallow. Stat.

Honorable Mention

Arrested Development:
Still brilliant. Still unwatched.

My Name Is Earl: On its way to Must See status.

The Office: Smart. Rich. And risky. Bravo, NBC.