i need media

i need media

Best Drama:
Breaking Bad (AMC).
Egregious snubs from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association aside, this was the year everyone else finally discovered the best show on television. I can’t claim to have been on the bandwagon from the beginning, but after nine months of proselytizing for it, I can now mention Breaking Bad in casual conversation without having to add, “it’s about a high school chemistry teacher who becomes a meth cook.” Going into season four, I felt some trepidation: How in the world could they keep up the nerve-obliterating pace without flying off the rails completely? It only took about 30 minutes into the first episode — around the time Giancarlo Esposito’s Gustavo Fring established himself as TV’s most frightening character, in a scene where he spoke only five words — for me to realize I should just trust in series creator Vince Gilligan, and that held true through the, um, “explosive” finale.

Best Comedy:
Louie (FX).
As with Breaking Bad, 2011 was the year Louis C.K. broke big. Not that he was an unknown before — his standup gigs have packed theaters for a while now — but with Louie, the rest of the world caught on to his genius. Eschewing nearly every sitcom convention — from serialized narrative structure to consistent tone, even daring to be unfunny for long stretches — each episode is more like a short film that oscillates from the absurd to the crushingly poignant. Two seasons in, the show has proven C.K. is more than just America’s best comic: He’s the new Woody Allen, only with a greater affinity for fart jokes.

Most Underrated:
Happy Endings (ABC).
It doesn’t have a particularly distinctive premise — it’s basically Friends for the single-camera era — but Happy Endings sprays one-liners like machine-gun fire, and over the last few weeks, the remarkably compatible cast’s joke-to-LOL ratio has been higher than Parks and Rec, Community and its overly celebrated lead-in, Modern Family. Start watching.

Biggest Disappointment:
Dexter (Showtime).
For four seasons, Dexter was in the conversation about the best dramas on television. Now it’s just trying not to jump the shark completely. And frankly,  once Colin Hanks’ murderous religious fanatic painted Michael C. Hall’s face over a demon’s body toward the climax of season six, it probably did just that. After last year’s flatline, the show needed to rebound, and for the first few episodes this season, it appeared to be on its way back. Then the writers killed off their most interesting character in years (Brother Sam, given subtle heft by Mos Def, er, Yasiin Bey), resurrected Dexter’s dead brother, and telegraphed a plot twist so blatant, that a naked mole rat could’ve seen it coming. To be fair, it ended with the only logical cliffhanger left; but to be honest, that development should’ve happened two seasons ago.

Best Sign of the Apocalypse:
Gigolos (Showtime).
Y’know what’s missing from most reality shows? Fucking. Sure, on The Real World and Jersey Shore, everyone’s sleeping with everyone, but where’s the penetration, damn it? It’s on Gigolos, possibly the most gloriously heinous series ever devised. Think Snooki and the Situation are detestable human beings? They’re Nobel laureates next to the cast of this show, which follows a group of totally self-unaware male prostitutes living, loving and  humping in Las Vegas. Bring it on, Mayans! Nothing more to see here!

I Need Media is a biweekly media column. Matthew Singer watches everything from PBS documentaries to Community to Showtime’s Gigolos, but mostly he’s just filling the void until Breaking Bad starts again. Follow him on Twitter at @mpsinger.

i need media

i need media

It didn’t take long after the ratification of its new collective bargaining agreement for the NBA to remind me why it’s the greatest sports league in the world. As the countdown to the lockout-shortened, free-agent feeding frenzy kicked off last Thursday, word leaked out that a trade sending the New Orleans Hornets’ all-star point guard Chris Paul to the L.A. Lakers in exchange for Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom was all but done. Hours later, in an unprecedented act, commissioner David Stern killed the deal. Fans were aghast. Sportswriters denounced the move as dictatorial. Paul threatened legal action. Odom damn near cried during an interview with ESPN.

Then, the next day, I woke up to read the Orlando Magic were considering filing tampering charges against the New Jersey Nets, over an alleged “secret meeting” that took place between the Magic’s coveted center, Dwight Howard, and the Nets’ billionaire owner and real-life Bond villain, Mikhail  Prokhorov.

Ah, it’s finally feeling like NBA season again!

All this extracurricular melodrama is what makes a lot of sports fans claim to dislike the National Basketball Association. Not me. I understand it’s antithetical to the spirit of athletic competition, but as someone who grew up indifferent to sports — mostly because I sucked at all of them — the “purity of the game” isn’t all that important to me. Don’t read that wrong: In my view, basketball is the most thrilling, the most lyrical and the most awe-inspiring of all major sports. But that alone isn’t what made me, in my 20s, suddenly become an NBA die-hard. Professional basketball is the team sport most driven by individual personalities, which causes soap operas other leagues don’t often experience. And I like outsized personalities. I like discussing off-court drama. And that’s why, with basketball finally resuming on Christmas Day, I’m even more excited about the return of TNT’s Inside the NBA.

It’s not enough to call Inside the NBA the best basketball-related program on television, or even the best sports show. It is one of most entertaining shows on TV, period. That it’s an NBA product is no coincidence; that its success has little to do with the actual game of basketball isn’t, either. What Inside understands; is that, more than the NFL or MLB, the NBA is not just about the sport itself but the culture surrounding it. Yes, it offers the insight of former players, primarily Charles Barkley and Kenny “the Jet” Smith, but their interactions have the tenor of fans bullshitting in a bar, with all the attendant biases, asinine statements and detours into topics totally unrelated to the on-the-court action. When it comes to cogent analysis, the ABC/ESPN crew is probably superior, but there isn’t an NBA devotee who’d rather listen to Greg Anthony dissect the Chicago Bulls’ defensive schemes than watch Barkley mock Kevin Durant for wearing a backpack to post-game press conferences.

Even before the tip-off of a single game, the chaos of the past week has assured me that, despite the lockout, nothing about the NBA is going to change. That fills me with great relief. If the league were functional, it’d be several degrees less fun. And what, then, would Kenny and Charles have to talk about? Welcome back, NBA, you crazy son of a bitch!

I Need Media is a biweekly media column. Matthew Singer watches everything from PBS documentaries to Community to Showtime’s Gigolos, but mostly he’s just filling the void until Breaking Bad starts again. Follow him on Twitter at @mpsinger.

i need media

i need media

Toward the climax of AMC zombie drama The Walking Dead’s mid-season finale last Sunday, there was a line of dialogue that should resonate as a mantra for the creative team when the show returns in February: “Shut up and give me the guns.” Appropriately, that advice came from Shane, a character the writers are trying to position as an increasingly sociopathic villain but who, in light of every other character’s namby-pamby indecision, and penchant for prattling on about the moral quandaries of post-apocalyptic life, has become the only guy — along with fellow man-of-action Daryl — worth rooting for. The show’s creators should listen to him.

Is there a more maddening series on cable than The Walking Dead? It had a head start on every other show on television before it premiered last year. It had zombies. It had celebrated source material, the acclaimed comic book series by Robert Kirkman. And it had Frank “Shawshank Redemption” Darabont at the helm as writer, director and showrunner. At its worst, the show should’ve been decent. What it’s turned out to be is dull. After a promising pilot, the show has been dog-paddling aimlessly in a stagnant swamp of clunky monologues and sub-Dawson’s Creek melodrama, while relegating its greatest asset — the greenlight from AMC to get gory — to a once-per-episode occurrence. It usually doesn’t even get that right.

And yet, every week, I sit down on the couch and give the show another chance. It’s an odd relationship. Typically, if a show sucks, I’ll quit after a few episodes. One and a half seasons into The Walking Dead, I keep returning like an abused — or, more accurately, bored — spouse, hoping things will be different. It’s not even because I’m particularly obsessed with zombie mythology.

For me, the hope comes from the fact that, more than just about any other underachieving show on television, the pieces are all there for a turnaround. I don’t need wall-to-wall blood and guts, but the threat of slow, shambling death must be palpable in every scene. It wouldn’t take much for that to happen. Kill off deadweight characters. Let us believe no one is safe. Get the survivors off the damn farm where they’ve been hanging out for seven episodes doing nothing. And, for God’s sake, stop yapping so much. All that time spent talking about a world gone to shit could actually be used to show people trying to live within it.

Admittedly, the show entered its two-month break on a high note. After being bogged down all season by the search for a missing child hardly anyone knew existed until she ran off into the woods, the kid finally emerged — zombified — from a barn and, in a callback to the pilot’s great cold open, lead protagonist Rick Grimes put a bullet in her brain to mercifully end that story arc. (Something about little girls getting shot in the head agrees with this show) I’d like to say too little, too late, but the truth is, the faintest hint that the writing staff knows what it’s doing will keep me watching. All I can do is hope The Walking Dead comes back with guns blazing, teeth gnashing and, most importantly, mouths shut.

I Need Media is a biweekly media column. Matthew Singer watches everything from PBS documentaries to Community to Showtime’s Gigolos, but mostly he’s just filling the void until Breaking Bad starts again. Follow him on Twitter at @mpsinger.

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