Making stuff as a founder of Avocado. Former music-maker. Tuna melt advocate. Started Google Reader. (But smarter people made it great.)

Good fiction on episodic TV

Late tonight I pretended I had free time and I tried to watch a little...

TV! Yeah, sometimes it seems as alluring and fulfilling as crafting unit tests. As is common with tastes and individual access to an internet connection, I was inspired to collect and share some favorites and recommendations regarding fictional episodic TV but I gotta stress, there's no particular order here. I could watch any of these on any rainy day where I'm not deeply involved in some task. All three of those days. (Some of the accompanying links are worth clicking though they vary in value and relation.)
"Enemies" The West Wing
I assert there is no better comedy sequence about US national forests ever written or performed. Not C-SPAN enough for you? The action centers around the attachment of a land-use rider to a banking bill. Impossibly good comic writing devolves by degrees into the sudden realization that perhaps you never see yourself sliding down the slippery slope you hoped to avoid.

"Door Handle" Absolutely Fabulous

There's a nice bit of jarring sadness at the end of this fun ride down motherly neglect. The comedy's sublime. The closet dowser will always crack me up. But Patsy's, uh, home-care mammogram is the greatest.

"Three Men and Adena" Homicide

Best interrogation scene I've ever seen. A claustrophic tour-de-force where objectivity melts, dries, and withers.

"Act of contrition" Battlestar Galactica

A short story about sons, daughters, lovers, parental disappointment, pseudo-families, and death. Flash-forwards or flash-backs? Playing with time is just one of the well-worn narrative hacks on display here that's been crafted uncommonly well.

"The Body" Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Perhaps the best fictional impression of contemporary death I've ever seen. I suspect it's not for the faint of heart nor for those who've experienced a loved one's death in a common, sudden manner. Possibly very, very disturbing - you've been warned.

"Homer's Enemy" The Simpsons

A bold step away from its formula as the show's creators nearly sink the goodwill earned for Homer Simpson when a desperate man's voice-of-reason peeks through the three-fingered world of blobbery cartoon American archetypes.

"The Routine" Oz

An updated-in-reverse version of personal growth, the bizzaro-world take on Hemingway's "The Short Life of Francis Macomber" our hero instead starting with bravado and learning to despair - the chilling conclusion startled me.

"Pilot" Six Feet Under

Best pilot ever.

"College" The Sopranos

My favorite sopranos episode. A simple slice of life which ably shows the complication of trust in marriage and business (well a kind of business) and of the bonds between parents and children. The seeds of destruction of a daughter's parental affection are planted here and Tony is shown to be capable, incontrovertibly, of evil. On a trip visiting colleges with her father, Tony's daughter asks a simple question: "Are you mafia?"

Series 7, The Contenders

I know this barely belongs - it's a movie. But it's the best satire of American television I've ever seen. (Had a much greater impact on me than Network.) And the end. My god, the end.

"Love's Labor Lost" ER

Blood, blood everywhere. Compound horror, truly gothic, and a previously utterly un-filmable progression of accidents in practicing medicine.

"Angels in America"

Best florid writing I've ever seen on television. Far too many exceptional moments to list. And I'm compelled to include samples. (You try making these lines work! The actors have uneviable jobs. I feel lucky to have seen it - they performed so far, far beyond what I've become accustomed to watch in TV land.)

Belize's describing Heaven to a dying Roy Cohn.
"Piles of trash, but lapidary like rubies and obsidian, and diamond-colored cowspit streamers in the wind. And voting booths. And everyone in Balenciaga gowns with red corsages and big dance palaces full of music and lights and racial impurity and gender confusion and all the deities are creole, mulatto, brown as the mouths of rivers. Race, taste and history finally overcome... and you ain't there."

The mannequin's desciption of how people change.
"Well, it has something to do with God, so it's not very nice. God splits your skin with a jagged thumbnail from throat to belly and plunges a huge filthy hand in. He grabs hold of your bloody tubes and they slip to evade his grasp but he squeezes hard. He insists. He pulls and pulls 'til all your innards are yanked out. And the pain...I can't even talk about it. And then He stuffs 'em back: dirty, tangled, torn. It's up to you to do the stitching."

Roy Cohn's attempt to change his doctor's perception of his illness and his sexuality through sheer, evil will.
"Now to someone who does not understand this a homosexual is what I am because I have sex with men ... but really this is wrong. A homosexual is somebody who, in 15 years of trying, cannot get a pissant anti-discrimination bill through the city council! A homosexual is somebody who knows nobody and who nobody knows. Who has zero clout. Does this sound like me Henry?"

Harper's remarkable and absurd conversations with her closeted husband, Joe.
"I'm gonna have a baby! ... A baby born addicted to pills. A baby who does not dream but who hallucinates - who stares up at us with big mirror eyes and who does not know who we are! ... Now we BOTH have a secret."

The homeless woman's conversation with Hannah (and herself).
"-slurp... slurp... will you stop that disgusting slurping, you disgusting slurping animal, feeding yourself. What would it matter to yourself or anyone if you just stopped feeding and DIED!"

I'm looking forward to a day when I can just link to any previously aired bit of television in some archive that anyone can download (by purchase where necessary). Deep-linking of video within the show would also be very nice, don't you think? If (note to self: when, think when) that day comes, I'll be re-posting this list with the appropriate pointers but for now wherever television maligners congregate and write off the medium I'll be happy to visit and showcase any of these.
posted at January 14, 2006, 2:42 AM


  • At 11:58 AM, Blogger yahooza said…

    My favorite Buffy 'sode was "Passion", somewhere in the latter half of season two. Angel(us) torments B and her crew, climaxing in Jenny Carpenter's death.

    i enjoyed the last episode of season four as well. The one with the cheese man.

    Ever check Firefly or Carnivale? Good stuff.

  • At 1:55 PM, Blogger Patrick from Nigel said…

    Forgive me going off topic, but I couldn't find anywhere else to give feedback/report blogger bugs and since you're the guy that wrote about the WYSIWYG interface that Blogger Help recommends reading, you're get this.

    Control + Shift + Up = Everything gone.
    1) Type a meaningful post in blogger's window.
    2) Hit Ctrl + Shift + Up arrow to select all the paragraphs.
    3) Watch your text disappear.
    4) Kick your desk, throw a marker, and curse loudly because you've done this same thing 20 times before and you are still too stupid to remember to use Ctrl + A to select all the text!
    5) Start your post over, again.

  • At 12:10 AM, Blogger tim said…

    Series 7 (Omigod! Someone else has heard of it! And seen it!) is great for the reasons you said, though my very favorite part is the music video.


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