If I had to sum up the 2009-2010 season in one word, I would shout “failed transition” as fast as humanly possible and make a fool of myself in the process. From NBC’s fiasco with Jay Leno and the Tonight Show to the networks’ collective failure to find the new Lost (think FlashForward) before the epic series came to a somewhat miscalculated end, the tube has seldom rewarded ambition with as much disappointment. Still, we got a number of gems this past year, including the following shows.
The Best of the Season:
So You Think You Can Dance (Seasons 5 and 6)
Nigel Lythgoe’s reality show isn’t a dance competition so much as a celebration of the discipline in all its forms. On what other television series can one find a ballerina learning a Bollywood number or a break-dancer attempting a sultry passo doble? I often find myself teary-eyed when I watch So You Think You Can Dance, and it’s got nothing to do with contestants telling their “I’m an everyday hero” sob stories. Some pieces, in particular the contemporary ones, just grab me by the gut.
In a failed attempt to take out CBS’ Dancing with the Stars in the fall (unfortunately, it seems viewers don’t actually like dance in their dance shows), So You Think You Can Dance moved to the Kodak Theatre and served up not one but two seasons, both of which proved among the series’ best, owing largely to new permanent judge Adam Shankman and the inclusion of Canadian choreographer Stacey Tookey. Oh, and then there’s season five winner Jeanine Mason, for whom my love burns like a thousand suns.
The One You May Have Missed:
Scrubs: Med School (Season 9)
In keeping with the theme of failed transition, I declare the series formerly known as just Scrubs the most underrated of the season. Its initial premise and recurring gags having long worn out their welcome, creator Bill Lawrence reinvented the sitcom as a sort of Police Academy (1984) with catheters, replacing half the cast and changing the setting to a university. As the title suggests, Scrubs: Med School works better as a spinoff than a continuation, and I suspect the show might have fared better if ABC had advertised it as such or, you know, at all.
In fairness, part of the blame goes to fans rejecting the changes without giving them a chance (viewers apparently don’t want new material in their comedies), generating bad word of mouth before the season even began. Ironically, the series’ ninth and final year turned out one of its strongest with fresh ideas and charming new characters, my favourite of which is Drew, whose suffering comes from Dr Cox actually liking him. For all who missed it, Scrubs: Med School definitely deserves another look on DVD.
The Other One You May Have Missed:
Better Off Ted (Season 2)
If you didn’t know Scrubs: Med School was playing every Tuesday at 8:00, chances are you also missed Better Off Ted, Victor Fresco’s cartoony satire about a midlevel manager trying to balance ambition and integrity in an evil conglomerate, at 8:30. Banking on their tonal similarity, ABC aired the two sitcoms as a combo pack of absurdist hilarity, a scheduling strategy that might have met with more success if the network had bothered to tell anyone about it.
Last year, Better Off Ted garnered a cult following after only thirteen episodes, owing to its outlandish plots and unassuming social commentary. Season two delivers more of the same with a stronger emphasis on Ted and Veronica’s oddball friendship, presumably to capitalise on Portia de Rossi’s uncanny comic precision. Still, the charm of the series lies in all its characters, who are each more likeable than the other and bat-poop insane in a disquietingly relatable manner.
The One I’m Going to Miss:
Heroes (Season 4)
To say Tim Kring’s homage to comic book heroes went out on a high would be a tad generous. Like Eddie Murphy’s body of work, Heroes has sucked twice as long as it’s been good, but, dang it, I love the characters. Besides, the series’ final volume turned out its most exciting in years. Bringing their habit of ripping off X-Men storylines to its logical end, the writers presented us with their version of Magneto, the earthshaking Samuel, whom Robert Knepper played with great panache despite never quite pulling off an Irish accent.
After all these backhanded compliments, you may be wondering why I’d miss the show. Simply put, it tries so hard. Yes, Heroes is stupid, but it’s stupid in a charming, creative way. CSI: Miami would never have reached nine seasons if Kring and his crew had got hold of it. However, you can bet Horatio wouldn’t be working the same forgettable cases from week to week. No, by episode six, he would’ve turned into a dragon, revealing his secret past as a cloned alien hunter who just wanted to write the next great American novel, and if you can’t see how that would’ve been awesome, you have no soul.