01. The Sopranos
I've done a lot of thinking about the finale while the rest of the world has seen fit to complain ad nauseum. And ya know...yes, it was a big fucking copout. I've heard now that the partyline being floated by HBO and creator/writer David Chase is that the show is primarily about family and not the mafia, so shame on the public and their bloodlust for wanting a massacre. OK fine, good point and all, but that's not why I'm unhappy with the ending. I'm unhappy because it just sucked. It was poorly written, as was most of the whole last season. The choices of the writers in the story arc were less than good, paramount among them killing Christopher. Plus, what were the points with Tony's Grand Canyon third-eye awakening and AJ's aimless depression subplot; in the end it was a cocktease from all angles and didn't matter for shit. The rumor in the ether of the message boards was that everyone in the diner was related to victims of Tony's violent business throughout the entire series, but HBO debunked that; said it wasn't the case. But fuck, THAT would've been a cool ending. Too bad David Chase didn't think of that.
02. John From Cincinnati
The first thing this show taught me was how to spell Cincinnati. The second thing it taught me (well, reminded me more like) was that I really like Bruce Greenwood. He is the traditional character actor routinely saddled with boring characters (troubled fathers, the US President), and Mitch Yost is just on the good side of boring. His best role is still his breakthrough in the 1994 arthouse hit Exotica, and at least I remember loving him on the forgotten mid-90's UPN show, Nowhere Man. Among all his forgettable political thrillers from the late 90's to today, his best work was in the sorely underrated submarine ghost story Below, co-starring some more of my favorite character actors (comedian Zach Galifianakis, Rushmore's Olivia Williams, a couple of the Lock, Stock guys). 2A would be a similar respect for Matt Winston, who leads the motel subplot on the show. He is less than a character actor in the Hollywood world, he is a character type; in the credits, when you see "Spanish man" or "elderly lady", Winston is that kind of actor. And yet, you remember him from somewhere (for me, it's as the "Seminary Student" hosed down in Fight Club). Somehow, he exists wholly in scenes with the great Luis Guzman and Willy Garson, and yet Winston is the focus, and credit due, big time. He is always cast as the "fairy", but he more than owns it here. The third thing that I've learned is that a quirky better-than-average drama can succeed on the back of one character, and that would be the titular John. He speaks only in shuffled phrases that he's heard from others, and he has the curious stare of a 4-year old that knows he's done something wrong and is waiting to see if a parent has noticed. He's got me hooked, and I have a feeling that the rest of the show is going to improve, snowballing after his lead.
03. Flight Of The Conchords
Hey ya know - I've learned that I'm not a big fan of the Australian/New Zealander accent. I had no idea. Thanks guys... PS, pssst, you're no Tenacious D, and their eventual movie kinda stunk.
04. Big Love
I don't love Big Love. Not the way I loved Six Feet Under, or the way I love The Wire. Of course, that's not entirely fair seeing as those are two of my Top 5 shows of all time, but I don't even love it the way I loved Carnivale. I do like Big Love, and there is a remarkable consistency with which it holds my interest. The three wives are played by three spectacular and well cast actresses, and Bill Paxton is never less than good in his own way. I gotta also say 'big ups' to the season premiere for showing a little more of the actual Mormon faith than I remember seeing in the first season. So, I'm in for season 2.
I wasn't crazy-go-nuts over the first season. I was however totally into the second season. I can't figure how Adrian Grenier didn't become a star like Vincent Chase after that (The Devil Wears Prada was a smart move though). Then came the first part of season three last fall. It was a mess. Dom the bodyguard? No thanks. I love the characters too much to have abandoned ship, so I stuck it out, and fuck me if I wasn't rewarded. This spring, the episodes have been excellent, spreading more of the story love around instead of giving Piven all the good bits. And to top it off, no season finale - the show will run through the summer. How's that for a reward? Tonight's Pablo Escobarific episode bodes well for my summer Sunday nights.