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Ten Good Things About Television

There is literally no lead I can write, no justification I can make, no apology that will mask what this is: a top-ten list recapping television in the year 2001. For a while, I debated doing "Ten shows that made absolutely no impression on me whatsoever," but ... well, what am I going to write? JAG: Apparently, it's still on. So scratch that idea. Coming up with ten odious shows, events or trends would be too easy -- I could just pick ten articles at random from the Teevee archive and riff on those.

Therefore, I'm simply going to go with the following ...

Ten Things about Television in 2001, Chosen for No Other Reason Than My Whimsy

1. John C. McGinley on Scrubs (NBC)
There is literally nothing I don't love about him. From the lines he tosses off ("So take your blahblah to the blahblahologist.") to his delivery, every time John C. McGinley appears on the screen, I sit up a little straighter and begin cackling in gleeful anticipation of whatever he's about to do.

2. Undeclared (Fox)
I was ready to declare the live-action half-hour dead until I saw this: the show is tight, funny and cringe-inducing in its depictions of average schlubs at a safety school. Anyone who even thinks about cancelling this is a chowderhead. For the love of God, won't some insane billionaire start the Judd Apatow Network and guarantee the man a television home in perpetuity? Or turn an existing cable channel into the JAN? I doubt anyone would really miss TNT.

3. Fox in general
Yes. Seriously. This is not the set-up to a long joke. Consider: King of the Hill, Futurama, The Simpsons, Malcolm in the Middle, The Bernie Mac Show, Undeclared, The Tick, 24. That's eight good shows. Find me another network station that does that. Hell, if I were being charitable, I'd almost say eight good shows cancels out such abominations as Titus, X-Files (which should have been taken out back and shot two years ago) and You'll Watch Whatever Crass, Jiggly Reality Show We Give You and You'll Like It. But I'm not.

Be warned, however, that Fox gets a conditional spot on the list until we can confirm Undeclared on the television schedule for 2002-2003. Cancel the show, and I find another network to grudgingly praise.

4. The Fall 2001 television season
And I'm not just saying that out of sheer gratitude that it happened at all: I'm just mean-spirited enough to have been looking forward to watching what would have happened had writers or actors gone on strike. But, since strikes were averted and shows were issued forth unto a waiting public ... holy cow, this is the first year I can recall where I've wanted to consistently watch more than one new show. How did that happen?

5. Kenny Mayne (ESPN)
Oh. My my my. He's the second reason I watch Two Minute Drill. The first reason is because the husband has the show on season pass and thus it is constantly on in our household. Still, Kenny Mayne's something else -- the quirked eyebrow, the deadpan delivery, it's all good.

5a. ESPN commercials
This network has the best promotional spots -- ever. Send their advertising department the finest meats and cheeses in the land. Send me a compilation of the commercials. Please?

6. HBO
With a few notable exceptions -- Arli$$, Mind of a Married Man -- the channel has the most solid line-up of original series and movies on today. If you're not watching OZ, you should be, and not just because Luke Perry is about to come back from the (presumed) dead. Now that the first and second seasons of The Sopranos are out on videotape and DVD, you have no excuse for not watching. Six Feet Under got so good, it wasn't even funny; Rick Cleveland turned into some of television's best, most compelling writing. Clark Johnson's Boycott deserved a wide-screen release of some sort, it was that good. Conspiracy combined masterful and understated acting (Stanley Tucci, Kenneth Branagh and Colin Firth all turned in powerful performances) with a premise that perfectly illustrates Hannah Arendt's concept of the banality of evil.

See how long the preceding paragraph is? I rest my case.

7. Season 3 Farscape (Sci-Fi Channel)
Any show that exploits the unresolved sexual tension between two characters without killing the chemistry deserves plaudits, but Farscape did one better by choosing a novel way to settle some of the simmering between John Crichton and Aeryn Sun: they cloned him, had her date one John, then killed him off just in time for John #2 to re-enter the scene and start the mating dance anew. Kudos to the writers for exploiting the elastic parameters of science-fiction narrative, thus enabling them to have their cake and eat it too.

8. The Chronicle (Sci-Fi Channel)
It's about time tabloid journalists had their day in the sun -- no, Deadline doesn't count -- and it's about time Jon Polito got a role that lets him combine his fine comic flair with his gruff, authoritarian demeanor. His performance is enough to make me forgive Rena Sofer's presence.

9. Adult Swim and Justice League (Cartoon Network)
Anyone who is not watching Home Movies is living a dull and orderly existence. Anyone who does not love The Brak Show or Sealab 2021 is a humorless dolt. And the supremacy of Space Ghost Coast to Coast is, of course, uncontested. The Cartoon Channel aggregates three hours of cartoons for grown-ups with Adult Swim and kindly broadcasts the package on Sundays from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m., then repeats the show again on Thursday nights for those of us who, having already spent our Sundays watching Fox and HBO, are in the throes of Quality Viewing Fatigue by 10 p.m.

As for Justice League -- not only is it really gorgeous to look at, it's surprisingly well-written and manages to please both long-time fans of the genre and newcomers. Comic book geeks like me are gratified by the appearance of Green Lantern Corps members Salakk and Kilowog as supporting characters in an episode, but the show is so carefully constructed, anyone can watch and be entertained.

10. The Best Buy commercial with the two bored convenience-store workers
Note to Kevin Smith: you will never need to make Clerks II. Someone else has already done it for you, and man, was it funny.


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