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Thursday, November 29, 2007

TV: The Best TV of 2007 Part Two

Here's the final 5 of my best of the year, televisually:

1) Mad Men (AMC)
I resisted this show mightily, mainly because its on AMC. AMC once stood for American Movie Classics but now stands for Always Mostly Crap. Once it was a haven for commercial free Hollywood classics very much like Turner Classic Movies but the braindead money grubbers came in and added commercial breaks, curtailed black and white movies, and traded in fare like Bringing Up Baby for Jaws 3. Ratings went down but no doubt profits went up as the commercial coffers filled. The last step in the MTV style brand denaturing that every cable channel seems to be falling for is the lure of original programming. It’s therefore sweetly appropriate that Mad Men takes place in the world of advertising.

What’s confounding is that Mad Men turns out to be a phenomenally great show, with a brilliant cast and top notch writing and production values. In a perfect world, HBO would have picked it up to replace The Sopranos. Set in 1960, Mad Men recreates the man's man's man’s world that James Brown sang about, red meat eating chain-smoking drinking and driving wife-is-at-home-cooking-dinner yesteryear. But under the surface there are secretaries aching to be copywriters, wives bored out of their skulls, and men’s men who really are men’s men in every sense of the word.

Jon Hamm, as brilliant and mysterious adman Don Draper, is mesmerizing. John Slattery as his womanizing rake of a boss does the best work of his career. I rooted for Elizabeth Moss all year as a secretary who starts to rise above her station and January Jones is beautiful and startlingly complex as Betty Draper.

Here’s Hamm as Don Draper pitching Kodak:

2) The Shield (FX)
The Shield is the most edge of the seat show on television. Even 6 seasons in, the ensemble cast of cops dirty and clean headed by Michael Chiklis is riveting. Every episode ratchets up the tension and like The Wire (which doesn’t qualify this year) the entire season feels like a satisfying novel. Loyalties will switch back and forth as characters reveal new depths but devotion to this show has a way of becoming total. Here’s the promo for last season:

3) It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX)
Like NBC’s The Office, Sunny spent its third season by expanding several episodes to the hour mark with sometimes mixed results. When they were firing on all cylinders this is the funniest envelope pusher on TV. The gang at Paddy’s bar spend their days undermining and backstabbing each other and anyone who crosses their paths. Along the way they dress up like cops, get hooked on coke, rig a dance contest, and exploit a baby found in a dumpster. Here Dee and Charlie try to sell cocaine:

4) The Office (NBC)
This has been a strange season for The Office. Jim and Pam are now officially A Couple (usually the sitcom kiss of death), and hour long episodes have led to more weird ennui and awkwardness rather than jokes – not necessarily a bad thing. This was a show I was prepared to hate, having loved the original brilliant BBC series. However the great cast and writing crew has made this a real gem. Enjoy the bullhorn dance:

5) 30 Rock (NBC)
Here’s another show that looked like a dog even through it’s first few episodes, but has grown into a real pleasure. I was never impressed with Tina Fey or Tracy Morgan on Saturday Night Live but the writing and performances on 30 Rock make them look good. The real key to the show are Jack McBrayer as a goody-two-shoes NBC page and the incomparable Alec Baldwin as the head of the network. Baldwin steals every single episode. Here's clips:

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