The Year in Superlatives
Best By-Product of the Election: The Rise of the Female Pundit
With two female candidates, skeptical female pundits were key, from the swashbuckling Campbell Brown to lefty pinup Rachel Maddow to, hell, even those crazy babes on The View, who blurred the line between personal and political with an eraser the size of Ohio.
Best Real-Life Fairy Tale: Super Bowl XLII
If we learned one thing from the underdog New York Giants, it’s that anything—anything—is possible. If this game had been a movie, you would have booed the improbable ending. Manning eludes that sack? Tyree makes the catch? Get real! But this was the real thing: a matchup so dramatic even non-football-fan New Yorkers turned to their screens. We heard one such viewer comment afterward, “Wow, I never knew football could be so exciting.” To which we responded, “Don’t ever watch another game. You’ll never see a better one.”
Best New Way To Watch TV: Hulu
Merely a step toward the inevitable: TV streaming through your computer, searchable, sortable, replayable, pausable, portable, binge-able. The networks are throwing spaghetti against the wall, trying to game these new distribution models. But in its current form, Hulu hints at a revolutionary way to view TV (e.g., while reading e-mail and IMDb-ing the cast!). And the archives! How else are you going to watch Welcome Back, Kotter at 3 a.m.?
Best Better-Than-You-Think Sitcoms: The Big Bang Theory and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Big Bang for getting geek psychology (mostly) right—from the Aspergian prig (Jim Parsons) to the yearning horndog dork (Simon Helberg), with a special emphasis on the pleasures of bickering over the life lessons in string theory and World of Warcraft. And the admittedly crude and twisted It’s Always Sunny for its sophomoric foursome, sort of a goyish Seinfeld for the Jackass age.
Most Jaw-Dropping Episode of TV. Ever: South Park’s “The China Probrem”
Perhaps like you, Matt Stone and Trey Parker didn’t care for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. But rather than just complain about it to their friends, they concocted one of the most disturbing (and gut-busting) sequences ever seen on South Park: The brutal rape of Indiana Jones—again and again and … you get the idea—by Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. That the film’s studio, Paramount—owned, like Comedy Central, by Viacom—reportedly had no idea that this literal skewering was coming is a testament to Stone and Parker’s awesome lack of fear eleven years into their show, still TV’s most purely satirical comedy.
Best WTF: Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!
Not even Monty Python reached the head-scratchingly bizarre heights of the supremely lo-fi “Adult Swim” show. This season, Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim (with help from folks like John C. Reilly and Bob Odenkirk) riffed on paninis, child clowns, scat singing, and cops on recumbent bikes. Why? When you laugh this hard, who cares.
Best Import: Skins
Breathtakingly frank about sex and spastically hilarious, the BBC America show is also the most authentic examination of adolescence on TV. And who would have thought that little dork from About a Boy (Nicholas Hoult) would turn out to be such a stud?
Reality Show Breakout: Audrina Patridge The Hills
The fourth season of MTV’s wildly popular reality-scripted mix The Hills got off to a slow start. Leading lady Lauren Conrad had little drama in her life, and Spencer and Heidi were solidly together in their dysfunction. Thankfully, Audrina—otherwise a vacant doormat—stepped up and had an absurdly entertaining season. Granted, most of that involved being trampled on by her on-again/off-again boyfriend, Justin. But without their tormented love, the season would have been unwatchable.