I could easily fill this list with returning shows that continued
to entertain us with quality TV — Deadwood, Veronica Mars, The
Daily Show
, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Entourage, Ted Koppel’s last
year at Nightline — but that would leave out all the new programs that
grabbed my attention in 2005.
Invasion The best of the new alien series. For one thing,
it has William Fichtner, who right now is officially TV’s creepiest dude. His
uniform says sheriff, but what chills the blood is his secretive role as the soft-spoken
“mayor” to his alien-infected Everglades community. In a recent episode, he even
persuaded an amputee, who was elated to have his arm restored after an alien encounter,
to chain-saw it off so he wouldn’t attract attention. Wow. Nothing that
emotionally disturbing or flat-out freaky ever happened on Threshold or
Surface.
My Name Is Earl It’s been a pretty good year for new
comedy on the networks — and I’m hoping that shows like The Office, How
I Met Your Mother
and Out of Practice get even better — but this Jason-Lee-with-a-mustache
show seemed fully formed right away. Its beer-buzz sunniness and trailer-park
farce plots are a joyfully funny antidote to the sarcasm orgies in today’s sitcom
world.
No Direction Home: Bob Dylan Martin Scorsese’s bio-doc
for PBS’s American Masters series is a marvel of found-footage editing
and talking-head storytelling. Dylan himself makes a surprisingly lucid guide
for this emotional, humorous and wonderfully musical tour through his formative
years as an artist and reluctant phenomenon during a period of American history
that roiled with belief in political change and personal, artistic power.
Medium Currently, Patricia Arquette — as a Phoenix wife
and mother grappling with psychic visions about crimes that inevitably test her
more relatably humanlike ability to analyze and reason — is giving the best, most
honest and most captivating weekly performance by a woman on television. Hers
was an Emmy well-deserved.
Weeds Instead of using suburbia as a familiar framework
upon which to graft jokes, this fresh, bracing and decidedly un-P.C. Showtime
comedy takes pains to explore the duality that’s inevitable when people try to
individuate in a world built on sameness. Mary Louise Parker’s pot-dealing mom
is a truly fine sitcom creation: a woman whose empathy, wit, sadness and sexiness
are all of a piece.
The Colbert Report The best thing about Stephen Colbert’s
Daily Show spinoff is that it’s a different animal from Jon Stewart’s headline
riffing and power pricking. It feels closer to alternative comedy theater, with
its bespectacled star serving up a grandly weird portrayal of a constantly aggrieved,
spitefully boastful opinion maker. It can be the kind of thing you’re not in the
mood for night after night, but when you are, and he’s on fire, it’s tear-inducingly
funny.
Green Wing/Extras/I Am Not an Animal Smart, tricky,
funny British comedies continued to jump the pond more quickly than before, with
Ricky Gervais’ latest embarrassment-humor series, Extras — a solid follow-up
to The Office — even sharing co-production duties with HBO. Green Wing,
on BBC America, presented a consistently nutty, gear-shifting parade of hospital
employees in various throes of sexual panic, one-upmanship and pressurized derangement.
And Sundance brought over the warped animated series I Am Not an Animal,
which features lab-raised talking creatures who think they’re human, and incredible
voice work from Steve Coogan and Julia Davis.
Homecoming When a talented director like Joe Dante winds
up making his most fully realized film in years via an anthology series for Showtime,
it’s time to acknowledge television’s ever-increasing ability to show up the movies.
This razor-sharp tale of zombies, dirty politics, an unpopular war and peaceful-then-violent
revenge was exhilarating stuff for the Masters of Horror series.
Wonder Showzen MTV2’s virulent strain of parody imagines
a children’s show submitting cynical life lessons even Fassbinder might have deemed
harsh, but nevertheless is crafted in the best spirit of gonzo comedy. I still
can’t get some of the hilarious kid-on-the-street interviews — real-life grade
schoolers saying wild-ass shit to grownups — out of my head.
The Staircase This six-hour Sundance Channel documentary
by Frenchman Jean-Xavier de Lestrade, who won an Academy Award for the harrowing
Murder on a Sunday Morning, kept you pingponging back and forth over the
guilt or innocence of its subject: North Carolina widower Michael Peterson, who
might have killed his wife and made it look like a fall down the stairs. Between
the unusual level of support from his stepkids, the weird secrets in his life
and the rigorous defense put on by his lawyer, this was like curling up with a
cracking legal thriller. Go rent it.