2011: A Year In Music

The slew of year end lists that tend to consume the internet never ceases to amuse me. Ranking art is in many ways a pointless exercise. My list of 2011’s best (insert art form here) will never be the same as yours. Still, as HitFix columnist Melinda Newman expressed in her Top Albums of 2011 piece, best of lists offer the opportunity to expose readers to music that they might not  have listened to otherwise.

Over the last two weeks, I’ve read upwards of twenty Best Albums of 2011 lists to familiarize myself with any albums that I might have missed during the calendar year. Some, like Wild Flag’s eponymous debut, P.J. Harvey’s Let England Shake, and Radiohead’s The King of Limbs garnered admiration from me more than adulation, which is why they don’t appear on my list. Others, like Common’s The Dreamer/The Believer, Robin Thicke’s Love and War and M83’s Hurry Up We’re Dreaming I simply didn’t get to sit with long enough to include.

The list below is reflective of my year in music. It features 40 terrific albums that I implore you to seek out, if you haven’t already. Remember, Spotify is your friend. Read more of this post


We Bought A Zoo: Worthy Of Awards Attention And Your Money

If you happen to follow the Oscar Derby as closely as I do, it helps to have a horse in the race. Obsessing over which 5-10 films the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voters will select is significantly less interesting when you’re not rooting for a particular film. To give you a better idea of what I mean, I’ve included a brief list of the films I’ve campaigned for the last 5 years. Read more of this post

X-Factor Chooses Story Over Substance

Music is a subjective art form. I acknowledge this. I know it to be true. And yet, I can’t help but walk away from this evening’s X-Factor with a bitter taste in my mouth and a great amount of disdain for the producers (Simon included). Find out why after the jump. Read more of this post

What Can I Say About The Entourage Finale?

As I sit down to write this post, I’m struck by an overwhelming sense of grief brought about by both the fact that Entourage concluded it’s 7 year run this evening and how it did so. Even as many of the show’s diehard fans have turned on it over the last season and a half, I have continued to vehemently defend creator Doug Ellin and the decisions he’s made. But tonight, as the curtains were drawn on HBO’s second longest running series, I was left shaking my head. “The End” provided neither a satisfactory conclusion to this season’s story arcs nor an adequate conclusion to the series as a whole. Read more of this post

Some “Extra” Thoughts On Glee Live

Photo Credit: OK Magazine

The end of last week brought about a slew of headlines concerning FOX’s Glee; Ryan Murphy confirmed that four of the show’s central characters would graduate from the fictional McKinley High School at the end of next season, the show finally hired a writing staff, and the vast majority of Glee‘s stars traveled to New Jersey for the filming of Glee Live! 3D! Like the cast, I too descended upon the IZOD Center for the filming, having been offered the chance to serve as an extra on the concert film. Read more of this post

2010’s Top TV Series: Part 2

5. The Vampire Diaries

It seems as though most of the critical community has checked out on The Vampire Diaries, which is a real shame. Brilliantly paced and expertly crafted by co-creators Kevin Williamson and Julie Plec, TVD was bound to be overlooked, because of the fact that it airs on The CW. But, The Vampire Diaries isn’t just a show for teen girls. TVD has one of television’s most bountiful casts. Characters like Tyler and Caroline, who were menialized last season, have been seamlessly usher to the forefront of the show this fall. Even guest stars are allowed to shine on The Vampire Diaries. Last spring Malese Jow proved she could be an emotional powerhouse, and this fall Taylor Kinney wowed audience as Mason Lockwood. If you’re someone who wrote TVD off, I implore you to reconsider.

4. Party Down

I will lament the loss of no 2010 show more than Party Down. Starz’s decision to ax the series was in no way unfounded; its ratings were beyond awful. To me, it’s more upsetting that people didn’t watch Party Down when they had the chance to. Even with the loss of Jane Lynch, Party Down continued to be one of the funniest shows on TV. Moreover, the show had a real heart to it. It’s hard to single out one episode of Party Down, because they all offered something different. “Steve Guttenberg’s Birthdayis an example of how stunt casting can be done correctly, while “Party Down Company Picnic” had Kristen Bell showing off comedic chops not seen in films like When In Rome. However, “Cole Landry’s Draft Day Party” was probably my favorite episode of the show’s 2nd season. It was an episode where everything fell perfectly into place. Something tells me that Party Down will cultivate a following on DVD, in much the same way Arrested Development did. And, I’m OK with that.

3. Parks and Recreation

The first season of Parks and Recreation gets an unfairly bad rap. Those first 6 episodes were far from perfect, but they hinted at what the show could potentially be. Over the course of its 2nd season, Parks and Recreation blossomed into TV’s best comedy. It introduced us to the one and only DJ Roomba, it provided us the joys of Ron F-ing Swanson, and it gave Adam Scott a new venue to show off his acting chops after the cancellation of Party Down. NBC made the foolish decision to sit Parks and Recreation this fall, so they could launch the shamefully unfunny Outsourced. Thankfully, Parks & Rec will return to the schedule on January 20th.

2. Mad Men

When I look back on the 4th season of Mad Men, I’m impressed by what the show managed to achieved, in spite of creator Matt Weiner’s delusions concerning dating in the 1960s, alcoholism and motherhood. HitFix’s Alan Sepinwall had the opportunity to speak with Weiner, shortly before the 4th season premiere. In the interview, Weiner said he didn’t think Don was going to struggle too much in season 4 or act “off his game.”  However, Don was “off his game” for the vast majority of the season. Gone were the grandiose scenes of triumph that had littered seasons past. Instead, we got a Don who was in over his head… a Don who spent most of the season in a drunken stupor. This provided some interesting tension and led to “The Suitcase.” I, however, tend to prefer Mad Men episodes like “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword,” which mix wry humor with nuanced drama. Once the season had concluded, Weiner spoke with Vulture, and made similarly ignorant comments about Betty that left me sighing. Basically, what I learned this year is that I love Mad Men, but not Matt Weiner.

1. Friday Night Lights

I adore Friday Night Lights, but I’ve had really bad luck with DirecTV’s service. Because of this, I’m forced to watch FNL when NBC reairs the series during the summer months. So, to clarify, I’m ranking season 4 of the drama atop my list of 2010’s best. Sending Coach Taylor to East Dillon and introducing a slew of new characters could have been the death of Friday Night Lights, but it actually reinvigorated the series. Matt Lauria and Michael B. Jordan were welcomed additions to the cast, and newcomer Madison Burge dazzled in a particularly captivating arc during the latter half of the season. Season 4 was also home to “The Son,” which I’d wager was the best hour of television to air in either 2009 or 2010, depending on when you saw it. The work that Zach Gilford did in that hour was so superb that it made the Emmys failure to recognize him reprehensible. The only consolation was that the episode itself was nominated for Best Writing in a Drama Series. Taylor Kitsch should also be commended for the work he did in season 4, particularly the last few episodes of the season. The final season of Friday Night Lights is currently running on DirecTV, and while I’d love to be watching it live, waiting until summer helps me delay the inevitable.

2010’s Top TV Series: Part 1

10. Justified

The first half of Justified’s debut season was made up of mostly stand alone episodes; the quality of which varied greatly. However, around the halfway mark of the season, Graham Yost and company began to unfurl a heavily serialized story that was utterly captivating. As Raylan Givens, Timothy Olyphant is suave and self-assured. If it weren’t for the abundance of strong male leads on television this season, Olyphant would have almost certainly been nominated for both the Emmys and Golden Globes. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him sneak in next year when Bryan Cranston isn’t eligible. Individuals looking for a definitive episode from this season should seek out “Blowback,” which was not only Justified’s best episode but also one of the best episodes of television to air in 2010.

9. Chuck

In 2009, after a stellar 2nd season, Chuck topped my list of TV’s Best Shows. Yet, because of its recent struggles, Chuck falls to number 9 this year. The first half of the show’s 3rd season featured a number of strong episodes, including “Chuck Versus the Pink Slip,” “Chuck Versus First Class,” “Chuck Versus the American Hero,” and of course “Chuck Versus the Other Guy.” The additions of Brandon Routh and Kristin Kreuk were met with mixed reviews, but I thought both provided interesting tension. Having said that, I cheered right alongside other Chuck and Sarah shippers when they finally decided to give it a go. More recently, Chuck has struggled to balance its more comedic elements with the family drama that arose from Linda Hamilton’s addition to the cast. The back and forth of Hamilton’s story has been incredibly frustrating, and questionably written at best.

8. Boardwalk Empire

Unlike most people, I found the pilot of Boardwalk Empire to be incredibly underwhelming. Martin Scorsese’s direction was gaudy and Terence Winter’s script was overwrought. The second and third episodes did little to change my opinion of the show but, during the show’s 4th episode it came alive. From there on out, the show continued to improve each week, culminating in a sizzling finale. Winter has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal, especially Michael Pitt, who steals the show with rich performance full of nuance. Guest star Jack Huston was also fantastic as war veteran Richard Harrow, making his recent upgrade to series regular status all the more sweet.

7. Fringe

Fringe has always been a very good show, but 2010 saw its evolution into a great show. Beginning with the season 2 episode “The Bishop Revival,” Fringe began to push boundaries. The writers’ decision to merely tease the alternative universe paid dividends when we finally traveled “over there” in the season finale. This fall, Fringe changed shape yet again, splitting time between both universes. Since then, it hasn’t missed a beat. “Amber 31422,” in particular, was one of my favorite hours of TV to air in 2010. People may be quick to dismiss Fringe because of its Sci-Fi branding, but the show is so much more. Week in and week out, the writing staff tackle some of life’s more universal themes with brutal honesty. Come January, Fringe will move to Friday nights. At first, this had me worried, but after some thought I’ve decided it may actually thrive on the night. Besides, if nothing else, we got this awesome new trailer for the show.


6. Terriers

Earlier this week, I ran a piece discussing why certain shows failed to make my list, while simultaneously commenting on the current state of the television industry. In that piece, I mentioned several shows that were prematurely canceled by their respective networks in 2010. Sharp observers likely noticed that I didn’t mention Terriers, an intentional decision since I knew it would be on my list. Terriers was this fall’s greatest revelation. For 13 weeks, the show managed to be funny, smart, dramatic, emotional and a long list of other things. With Terriers, Shawn Ryan, Ted Griffin, and Tim Minear crafted a gem that will likely find a second life on DVD. And, when it does, I hope people cherish episodes like “Change Partners” and “Sins of the Past” as much as I did.