Worthy of your vote
It was a strange, stuttering year for television. It’s no knock against collective bargaining to point out the writers strike made a constitutionally skittish medium even more erratic than usual. On the broadcast networks, shows came and went and came and went confusingly through the winter, spring and summer; fall, when it arrived, was underwhelming. (Premium and basic cable were somewhat inured to those shocks, but it was a slow year there, too.) And yet, as anyone with a DVR knows, there is still more to watch than there is time watch to it.
The election was reliably the most exciting thing on the air, as it would have been even in a better year.
Here are some things I liked, in no particular order.
Embedded video. Political sites made especially good use of this application in this year of compulsive blog-following. (A special nod to Talking Points Memo’s “The Day in 100 Seconds,” a wittily compressed compendium of the day’s news and commentary.) But those little moving-picture windows are everywhere now, from Amazon to Facebook, with a multiplicity of proprietary players that represent a real marriage of television and the Internet.
Katie Couric and Rachel Maddow. The election refocused attention on Couric and raised the fortunes of Maddow, who together represent a kinder, gentler -- but no less firm -- brand of news hosting, network anchor and cable divisions. If the seriocomic Maddow is not exactly post-partisan, she is polite, which means a lot.
Tina Fey. “30 Rock” still lacks an audience commensurate with its quality (or media play), but from her show’s seven Emmys (including one for her), to her Sarah Palin impersonation, American Express commercial and Vanity Fair cover, this was Fey’s year.
“Somebodies” (BET). One-camera, indie-flick-style African American sitcom shot on location in Athens, Ga. Easygoing and goofy and in no hurry to get to a point.
Craig Ferguson (CBS). The late-night host I’d take to a writers strike.
“The Middle Man” (ABC Family). Culturally allusive live-action comic book works both as adventure and parody. Sometimes sweet, sometimes snarky, but always smart.
“The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack” (Cartoon Network). Baroquely rendered, nautical-themed cartoon show, awash in a strangeness not unfriendly to children.
“In Plain Sight” (USA). Ever-improving, desert-set cop show, nominally concerned with the witness protection program, but containing also a novel domestic drama, with federal Marshal Mary McCormack supporting and battling hapless sister Nichole Hiltz and helpless mother Lesley Ann Warren.
“Bernard and Doris” (HBO). Susan Sarandon and Ralph Fiennes as millionairess Doris Duke and her alcoholic butler in a pas de deux drama, possibly not true to life but convincing, original.
Beyonce “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” TV blitzkrieg. The video, a minimally edited, light-sculpted, Fosse-inspired dance routine, harked back to the floating-in-white early days of MTV clips and earlier days of prime-time variety, when performance ruled. Repeated live on a TV tour that included “Saturday Night Live,” the “TRL” finale, “The American Music Awards,” “Today,” and the talk shows of Ellen and Tyra and Keyshia, it stayed exciting, the star radiating power and joy.
The noisy self-love of certain (overly certain) newspeople.
No new episodes of “Flight of the Conchords.”