The 2009-2010 television season has come to a close, and the Emmys will reveal their yearly nominations tomorrow. But who cares what Emmy says? She's drunk most of the time anyway (or definitely on something... see: multiple nods for Two and a Half Men). Here are my picks for the MVPs of the last year in TV, including the 2009 summer season.
First, some names that did not make the list, in case you were wondering what happened to...?
Not Listed: Desperate Housewives
Was anyone able to stay interested this season as the ladies of Wisteria Lane further devolved into empty shells, and insipid soapiness replaced any semblance of plot? It may finally be time to euthanize.
Not Listed: Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock
The fourth season of 30 Rock was carried by its supporting players, as its duo of leads were puzzlingly preoccupied. Baldwin, once infallibly suave as TV exec Jack Donaghy, spent this season always squirming under somebody's thumb: first, squashed by the pressures of a shift in management, then pinned down by the improbably unrelenting guilt of a love triangle. Meanwhile, Liz Lemon lost an awful lot of herself in her quest for an identity (ironic much?), and Tina Fey often seemed asleep on the job--halfheartedly sleepwalking through the part.
Not Listed: Many from True Blood
Let's be honest. True Blood is frisky and fun, but it isn't exactly the pinnacle of television artistry. (I admit, I too was once misled by the hype.) And while the first season offered a handful of cautiously strong performances, including a top-tier turn from Nelson Ellis as Lafayette, season two saw the unraveling of meaning, momentum, and character consistency. One name lands a spot on this list (see below), but the entire cast of leading characters, led astray by a crisis in creativity, couldn't quite make the mark.
Not Listed: Many from Mad Men
The third season of Mad Men is hard to define. It was at times more prolific and poetic than anything that came before, even while all the more cumbersome and frustratingly inert. What emerged from the dips and whirls into various conceptual arcs was the existential journey, the saga, even, of one particular character (unsurprisingly, listed below). And while John Hamm as Don Draper, Elizabeth Moss as Peggy Olson, and Christina Hendricks as Joan Holloway (and even the rest of the cast) all gave solid performances, none of them were quite given the opportunity to leave a lasting impression.
Not Listed: Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife
Hers may have been the most talked-about performance of the season, and indeed Margulies was effective and affecting. What she lacked, however, was a supportive environment that would allow her character to blossom. The CBS network likes to play it safe when it comes to programming (the understatement of the century), and even The Good Wife, arguably their most dynamic primetime offering, felt constrained by a frantic avoidance of serialization--as did Ms. Margulies.
Not Listed: Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory
Sheldon, played with considerable savvy by Jim Parsons, is the glue that holds Big Bang Theory together, but the show itself is yet another repetitive, unchallenging entry into the sitcom genre by the CBS television network. Parsons is always the most interesting component of the show, but, like Margulies, he works hard to enliven his environment instead of his environment lending any support to him. Get back to me when they give this guy his own show--hopefully on a different network.
Not Listed: In Treatment
The show was on hiatus this year. Season three will be the first to be fully realized without a foundation (the first two seasons drew from the Israeli series BeTipul), and Dianne Wiest has unfortunately declined to return. The always impressive Amy Ryan will join the cast as Paul's new therapist, but will the show achieve the same level of excellence with entirely original content? Stay tuned!
And now, the ones who did make the list...