Thursday, January 01, 2004

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Okay, comes now the final installment in my year-ending quadrilogy of the music, films, comics and TV shows that made a great impression on me in 2 double aught 3. This may come as a big surprise to you, but I just don't watch a lot of major network prime-time TV shows. When I do sit down to watch, more often as not it's either old movies on TCM or sports (I watch at least an hour of ESPN News every day, it seems) or movies on cable, or pay cable series. And every time I do get attached to a series to the point where I make it a point to watch every week, it seems, it either gets cancelled quickly (e.g. Action, Firefly, Strange Luck) or gets progressively worse due to various reasons (X-Files comes to mind, Twin Peaks) or both (American Gothic, anyone?). Of course, there are exceptions, like Buffy (not without its peaks and valleys) or The Simpsons. I did watch a lot more TV this year than in years past, however, mostly because I was home more...and here's the top five that I liked enough to set my timer so I wouldn't miss them, alphabetically of course:

Carnivále Certainly one of the most unusual series in recent memory, kinda reminsicent of The Grapes of Wrath as filmed by David Lynch, this HBO production is set in the Depression era and deals with two ongoing storylines: first, a traveling carnival, with an assortment of quirky characters and some dark secrets- and the drifter, wanted by the police, who joins up with them. And oh, by the way, the drifter also has a supernatural ability to heal. Also, it's the story of Brother Justin, a priest who lives with his creepy sister and sees visions, which he can make manifest upon occasion. The storylines have been consistently fascinating, and in the case of the strange town of Babylon where the carnival makes a fateful stop, eerie and haunting. No one is exactly what he seems to be, nor are they entirely good or evil. The cast is uniformly excellent, especially Michael J. Anderson (you remember, the little guy from Twin Peaks) as carny boss Samson. This season's finale kinda hedged its bets, X-Files style, by promising to resolve more than it actually did. But all in all, a fascinating series and I look forward to season two.

Dead Like Me Another unusual show, with the requisite quirky cast and characters- but this tale of a young lady named George who is killed by the toilet seat from space station Mir, only to discover that she's still "alive" in a sense, but as a "reaper", whose job it is, for an unspecified amount of time, to extract the souls of the newly deceased and direct them towards their final destination, was always engaging and clever. The writing was uniformly excellent in its first year, switching seamlessly from drama to pathos to wry comedy, and the leads (especially Mandy Patinkin as the head reaper of George's group) pulled off their roles with aplomb. Looking forward to season two.

Futurama Good news, everyone! The Other Show That Fox Hated finally bowed out in '03, and was every bit as funny as its previous three seasons. I was kind of a late convert to Futurama, since I worked at a job from '99 to '01 that caused me to miss many episodes, whenever Fox deemed to air them, and as a result kinda forgot it was even on afterwards. And of course, it was always being pre-empted because football ran overlong. But, I began watching the reruns on Cartoon Network late last year and developed an addiction that has only recently begun to abate. Gonna do my best to get the DVD sets.

Navy NCIS I have no explanation for why I find this show as interesting as I do. I have never been interested in this genre, the military/civilian/forensic investigator/crime show one, so I'm a bit mystified. One bored evening of flipping through the channels resulted in a chance viewing, and I thouroughly enjoyed the episode I watched...and one thing led to another, and here it is, on my top five list! The stories are usually hinged on a mystery which is, most of the time, a good one and often resolved without resorting to pulling a coincidence or deus ex machina out of the blue; and it's fun to watch the fine ensemble cast go through their paces, especially Mark Harmon as an unexpectedly dryly witty group leader, David McCallum as a quirky medical examiner and the lovely Pauley Perrette as a forensic specialist/computer whiz/Goth chick. Somewhat against type and kinda unlikely, one would think, but she's really good and very likeable in the role. These three balance the somewhat bland other leads Agent Katie Todd (Sasha Alexander) and Special Agent Anthony Dinozzo (Michael Weatherly).

The Simpsons You keep waiting in dread for this show to wind down and become unfunny, and it never happens. Amazing.

Best of the rest: I finally started watching Angel this year, after it crossed over with the Buffy season finale, mostly to see Eliza Dushku return as Faith, and developed a genuine interest in the proceedings. I like the ensemble cast, and both the last season finale, with Firefly's Gina Torres as a messiah figure who wasn't quite what she seemed and the new season's premise of the Angel Band being assimilated into sinister law firm Wolfram & Hart, with an ongoing role for Buffy's Spike, James Marsters, was always interesting and often fun, especially in a recent episode that featured Mexican wrestlers and ghosts. Speaking of Firefly cast cameos, Nathan Fillion, Capt. Mal Reynolds on Joss Whedon's unappreciated space western, played a thoroughly unlikeable heavy for the majority of the last season of the aforementioned Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which, like most of the series' run since its inception, had some very high highs but also its share of low, logic-and-coherency-defying points as well. Still, it went out with a bang, all things considered, ad I'll always fondly remember the series. Karen Sisco is a show that looked and sounded very interesting, but for some reason I was never able to catch an entire episode and now it's in hiatus purgatory. Perhaps if they bring it back I can make it a point to watch a couple of eppies. I was disappointed that Showtime's excellent Chris Isaak Show didn't make its season three premiere in '03; the first new episode is set for January 8. Many of my favorite shows were animated- as I mentioned several months ago, this season's run of Justice League has been 100 thousand times better than last season's, with improved animation and character interaction. 2003 was also the year that Teen Titans made its debut, and I always found that anime-influenced series fun and fast-paced, even if the premise often doesn't make sense because the writers simply don't address why these kids (none of them appear to be over 18) are all living together in that building and fighting evil, and how do the grownups these characters have traditionally been attached to (Robin=Batman, Beast Boy=Doom Patrol, Aqualad=Aquaman) figure in? Batman was obliquely mentioned in one episode but other than that it's almost Peanuts-like in its refusal to show any mentor figures, other than the malevolent Slade. A fave episode was one that brought back the obscure 60's Titans adversary The Mad Mod, voiced by none other than Malcolm McDowell, who in his Clockwork Orange-era youth was a dead ringer for the comic-book Mod. Aqua Teen Hunger Force's second season was as brilliant, absurd and surreal as its first, and South Park, much to my surprise, has showed few signs of slowing down as the years have gone by. I watched several recent episodes and laughed my ass off.

OK, that's all I can think of for now. On to 2004!