I was at a conference last week, and I missed my deadline, for which I am deeply sorry. Here's what you missed because I wasn't here to tell you about it.
- The Grammys. Nothing very interesting happened. Apparently the Avett Brothers shared the stage with Mumford & Sons and an obscure songwriter known as Bob Dylan, and that was supposedly great. Then Arcade Fire won Album of the Year, and a lot of people got really angry because they'd never heard of Arcade Fire.
- The series finale of Friday Night Lights. I talked about this show two weeks ago, and I don't have much to add. I'm still early in the final season because I watch everything on a lag, but my friend Steve said the show had the best series finale they'd ever seen, which got me really excited. I told him not to say anything more, and he told me not to worry; Coach Taylor's death made total sense.
- An alarmingly brilliant episode of Community. This show is quickly becoming one of the most compelling sitcoms on television. Creator Dan Harmon deftly dances between acid-laced surreality and firmly grounded relationships. Community's Dungeons & Dragons themed episode was hilarious and touching, and it all took place in essentially one room. There are hundreds of reasons Community is so terrific, but I think I'm most impressed by how the writers and actors take what could easily be one-note characters into hidden depths. Between Louie, The Onion Sportsdome, and Community, it feels like we're entering an era of innovative television comedy similar to the leaps hour-long dramas have made in the last decade. I listed those three shows simply because they feel groundbreaking. There are others, like Modern Family, Parks and Recreation, 30 Rock and Always Sunny in Philadelphia that are just as funny, if not quite as unique.
All Times Arizona
Portlandia - Friday, February 18th. 10:30 PM on IFC.
This show is all over the place. One week it'll be terrific ("Put a Bird On It"), and the next mundane ("Aimee", which featured Aimee Mann and maybe three laughs). Last week's episode ("The Mayor is Missing") was back on course, but I don't know what to tell you with this thing.
Big Love - Sunday, February 20th. 9 PM on HBO.
I'm having a hard time pinning down Big Love, too, but I think I'm still suffering whiplash due to the transition from Season 3 (one of the best seasons of television ever produced) and Season 4 (one of the most disappointing seasons of television ever produced). I think they're basically on track, and this season has included some Sopranos-style dream sequences, which felt like a down comforter. I definitely appreciate how open the writers have left the ending. The Henricksons could stay together. They could break up. Bill could die or be imprisoned. Anything could happen and I think I'd be okay with it.
A lot has been made about how morally ambiguous Tony Soprano was, but I think people essentially rooted for him even at his most monstrous. We're a lot like the FBI Agent Harris in the Sopranos finale, cheering Tony's victory despite ourselves. Bill Henrickson is different, and Big Love's writers have pushed him even farther into gray area. At first this seems like a failure to keep viewers drawn to him in the same way David Chase kept us glued to Tony Soprano, but I think it actually comes down to how every other character is portrayed. We see the horrible impact of Bill's actions on his wives and family and the community around him, and we feel sympathetic for the victims. In The Sopranos, Tony's victims were always sort of worse than he was. When he shakes down his gambling addict childhood friend, they make the friend despicable enough that Tony seems right, or at least justified. In the end, I think Big Love is pulling off something more impressive.
Glee - Tuesday, February 22nd. 8PM on Fox
I try and stick to shows people should watch and avoid panning shows I dislike, but Glee is strangely in both camps. I caught my first episode in a while after the Super Bowl, and I was surprised at how little the conflicts had changed from the last episode I saw, which was early on in Season 1. There were slushees being poured on people. (The first time that happened, it was funny. I didn't know they kept doing it. Why is it funny now?) There was tension between the football team and the glee club because one is traditionally masculine and the other is not. There were a number of love triangles. Everything was basically the same. I got the sense I could skip around from episode to episode, across seasons, and I'd be fine. It's strange, because that's not how hour-long shows seem to work anymore.
I can't begrudge people for liking Glee. The cast pulled off a decent rendition of Lady Antebellum's "Need You Now", which might be the only time they've performed a song more soulful than the original (though I like that song a great deal), and I appreciated the cover of The Zombies "She's Not There", because I love me some oldies standards.
That said, I hate this show with a passion. I hate that they took the record for Billboard Top 100 singles from Elvis. I hate Glee creator Ryan Murphy for tearing into Kings of Leon for having some measure of integrity and turned it into a plea for "the children" when everything's really about money. I hate that we're being force-fed Lea Michele as some sort of sex symbol. I hate that Jane Lynch is now universally known as Sue Sylvester when she was much better in Best in Show and Party Down. I hope Glee burns out like one of Katy Perry's fireworks.
The Onion Sportsdome - Tuesday, February 22nd. 10:30 PM on Comedy Central.
This show is just amazing. The sportscasters are being fleshed out, the stories are consistently brilliant. I don't know what more to say. We could be witnessing something huge here, my friends.
Community - Thursday, February 24th. 8 PM on NBC.
Don't miss out on another episode like the Dungeons and Dragons one! Or the Christmas Special! Or the paintball episode! It's safest just to watch every week.