The Emmy ballots are in, which means the 2007-08 TV season is officially over. Actually, the TV season officially lasted from June 1st until May 31st, but it doesn't really seem over until now. Now that we've had a few weeks to reflect, we can begin to formulate our opinions, or leave that up to the professionals, about the best and worst of the season gone by.
But that's easy. What about the far more enticing category of the most overrated and underrated? But we shouldn't limit ourselves to TV shows. Things like news stories, performances, and accepted perceptions are all ripe for the over and underrated picking.
The following are the most underrated and overrated things about the 2007-08 TV season.
5. "Breaking Bad"
The best television show of the season didn't debut on a major network or even on a premium cable channel like Showtime or HBO. Instead, its premiered aired on AMC, a network best known for its endless airings of Westerns and horrendous colorization of classic films. This season, it transformed itself into a TV titan. First with the fine "Mad Men
", and then with this groundbreaking series. "Breaking Bad" is a frenetic journey into the psyche of a broken man and the lengths to which he will go in order to support his family and regain his pride in the process. Ostensibly a series about a terminally ill high school science teacher who begins selling meth, it is turned into so much more through the writing and the performance of its lead, Bryan Cranston
. Despite its brilliance, it never earned the buzz or the viewers of the slightly inferior "Mad Men". This could be because its strike-shortened season never allowed the show to generate enough momentum, but whatever the case it was criminally undervalued.
4. The Success of "House"
Quick. What's the most-watched scripted program on television? Not "Grey's Anatomy
", not "Desperate Housewives", not "Lost
", not any "CSI
". No, it's a quirky series about an eccentric but brilliant doctor who happens to be a complete jerk. Despite radical cast changes for a brief period, this show just keeps rising up the ratings chart. This is mostly due its self-contained nature, allowing viewers to drop in and out, catch an episode every so often and never feel lost (a reason "the serialized television revolution" would have topped the most overrated list for last season if it existed). Also, the performance of Hugh Laurie continues to captivate despite his character being mostly unlikable. Despite "House"'s status as a ratings behemoth, nobody ever seems to talk about it. Now that's a malady even Dr. Gregory couldn't diagnosis.
"Lost" is unequivocally the best show on television after its fourth and best season scorched onto the small screen this year. The mystery grew deeper, the characters grew and thusly revealed more about their past in any season since the first, and it became clear that an overall master plan is certainly in place for this series. "Lost" is essentially pulp in comparison to "The Sopranos
"' epic novel, but it's the best type of pulp there is. It's also the first television series to ever perfectly handle the formula for an overarching mystery. Amazingly, its viewership continues to decline and most of the critical old guard are still dismissive of it. This is a shame, because "Lost" is one of the 20-best television shows of all time and is not getting the appreciation it so richly deserves, especially for its mind-blowing fourth season.
2. Kristen Wiig
Despite only given about a dozen episodes, this year Wiig established herself as far and away the best performer on "Saturday Night Live
" and perhaps (sorry, Gilda
) its best female cast member of all time. It seems Wiig has a character well that simply cannot be run dry. Whether she's a cougar, an A-hole, the hilarious Penelope, or her pitch-perfect Suze Orman, Wiig slides into the role completely without a trace of herself apparent. She's a true chameleon less in the mold of Dana Carvey or Darrell Hammond and more like a Phil Hartman - a character performer who finds a newness in each new creation. Kristen Wiig just may be the funniest female on the planet, yet she's overshadowed by many of her fellow cast mates, including the torpid Amy Poehler who has all the range of Siobhan Fallon. (Quick Sidebar: Why do people go absolutely insane over Fred Armisen's portrayal of Barack Obama simply because he isn't black? The guy sounds just like him and looks just like him after makeup. In contrast, Amy Poehler never even attempts to mimic neither the voice nor the mannerisms of Hillary Clinton? All she does is wear a bad wig and a pantsuit and people think she's brilliant. It's crazy! If you want to see a good Hillary Clinton impression, just check out Jan Hooks, maybe the most underrated "SNL" player ever, from the early 90s.) One need only look at the "SNL" Entertainment Weekly cover of a few weeks ago. Wiig is nowhere to be found and the cover kids are the aforementioned Poehler and her wooden co-conspirator in murdering "Weekend Update", Seth Meyers. How does this happen?
Where is the buzz? Where is the buzz? This site launched to little fanfare a few months ago, and has rarely been talked about since. This despite the fact it represents the first seamless integration of network television and its supposed competitor, the Internet. For the millions of you who haven't yet discovered Hulu, you must check it out. It provides viewers access to entire seasons' worth of episodes of their favorite shows like "The Office
" and "30 Rock
" in pristine quality. The tradeoff is an unskippable 30-second commercial during the normal on-air break, but this truly on-demand TV site is completely worth it. It's ludicrous that Youtube and other sites with inferior content and quality continue to be all the rage while Hulu continues to fall by the buzz wayside.
5. The Last Season of "The Wire" Being Bad
It's true, "The Wire"'s swan song was clearly its worst season, but that didn't mean it still wasn't better than everything else on TV. Critics and fans made this less-than-perfect season out to be a complete bomb, which it wasn't. The newspaper angle wasn't as interesting as the schools or the politics, but it was handled well. The serial killer seemed a bit far-fetched but effectively worked as satire. The gripes for this season were blown farther out-of-proportion than the fictional Sun's coverage of the red ribbon killer. The final season of "The Wire" was just like all its other seasons: Brilliant.
4. One-Note Actors on Sitcoms
The two biggest recipients of this overratedness are Jack McBrayer
(Kenneth on "30 Rock") and Brian Baumgartner
(Kevin of "The Office
"), but many others have been showered with similar undeserved praise. Those who think actors such as these are brilliant simply don't understand acting. These people are not acting in the traditional sense. Instead, they are doing almost comedia del arte performances of a single character with a single trait that drives every single line. You can't really blame Baumgartner because he works with what he's given, but McBrayer is bordering on the overrated hall of fame for the praise showered upon his Kenneth. People demand Emmy nominations for the performance, despite the fact that McRayer has proven in several other roles that the angelic hick is the only thing he can do, he does it well, but this isn't acting. No, McBrayer, Baumgartner, and all the other one-note actors are playing a single trait and get better treatment from critics and TV fans than David Duchovny's
hilariously complex performance in "Californication
" (Golden Globe notwithstanding).
3. American Idol's Ratings Decline
Yes, the audience was down about a million or two viewers this season, but the show was still the number one and two program this year. Number one and two! That's like when the Beatles had the top five hits in the country. And people talk about a drop of about 7% like the show is on life support. It's still the most popular program in the country by a margin greater than its decline! Critics call for major tweaks to win back viewers, sites like "Vote for the Worst" all but declare the show's demise, and the producers go so far as to elicit advice from fans on how to better the show. There are shows on TV that if they lost the amount of viewers "Idol" did this year, they'd slip into the negative. "Idol" is an absolute behemoth, and continues to be so, despite what the naysayers may claim.
2. The "Success" of "The Office" and "Gossip Girl"
"The Office" has long been one of the most buzz-heavy shows on television. NBC touts it as a keystone comedy, and even think it essential enough to spin off. "Gossip Girl" was the undisputed buzz queen of the 2007-08 season, regarded as the show to save the CW and the biggest teen hit since "Beverly Hills, 90210
". Now for the truth. "The Office" averaged 8.09 million viewers per episode this season. This could be seen as a sign of the times: ten years ago 8 million viewers would have gotten a show canned after the first commercial break, but today it's a hit, but look closer. The 8 million viewers for "The Office" rank it at a tie for 77th on the TV season with ratings titan "Eli Stone
". This is a lynchpin? No way. The real dog is "Gossip Girl". This runaway hit for the CW attracted an average of 2.35 million viewers for the 2007-08 season. This put it at 196for the year behind such stalwarts as "Reaper
", "The Next Great American Band
" and reruns of "Medium
". Who knows in what world "The Office" and "Gossip Girl" qualify as hits. Let alone, the runaway successes the media purports them to be.
1. The Writer's Strike Ruining the Season
So what did the writer's strike really cost us? Two weeks of re-runs? Three? When the TV season seemed at its most bleak, the midseason replacements stormed in, and then the strike brought the regular season episodes back as soon as the fill-ins ran out of episodes. That's really it. Sure, "Heroes
" went off for half a year, and people had to wait almost six months for another episode of "The Office", but there was never a total lack of new scripted programming. If we were to believe the predictions, TV would have completely collapsed under the weight of this strike, and for several months we'd have been watching rodeos and reruns of "Herman's Head". That never happened. It never even came close. We suffered through maybe a two week gap between the mid-season and regular season shows and then all was right in the world. Plus there's the residual effect of extended planning periods allowing for a great 08-09 season. Doesn't seem like the end of TV at all.
Check back next week for the most overrated and underrated breakup songs of all time.
Story by Andrew Payne
Starpulse contributing writer