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"Art and love are the same thing. It's the process of seeing yourself in things that are not you."

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Best of 2008: Best TV Show

Note: In the interest of cataloguing and recording, I am using my blog as a vessel to select one and only one significant piece of culture from three different mediums: Film, Television Show and Album. I do not read enough books or see enough plays to form any kind of worthwhile opinion on either and I believe that Movies, TV and Music are the Big 3 of American pop culture anyway.

I am choosing only one from each because while I love Top Ten lists as much as the next guy (probably significantly more even), I find that the only part of the list that truly matters to me is the work that occupies the one spot. It is a powerful statement to whittle down all the films, shows and albums in a year into a list of ten, but it is another thing all together to find just ONE. In choosing one from each category, I am saying that if there were a nuclear holocaust imminent, I would choose these three works of art to place in an indestructible box so future generations could see the very best of what Western culture had to offer.

Just know that these choices are completely subjective and I am clearly not the most qualified person to choose the best of anything. I feel I know a lot about films and see enough of them in a given year to make an informed decision. I feel similarly strongly about TV shows, but I do not see quite as many shows as I do films. I know virtually nothing about Music, however, so if there is one category to take with a big ol' grain of salt, it would be Best Album.

TV Show of the Year: Lost
Runner-up: 30 Rock

If you believe, like I do, that a critical component of good drama is reversal of expectations, then Season 4 of Lost was your kind of drama. Season 4 was the year in which a select group of the Flight 815 plane crash survivors along with a few other "castaways" finally completed their long journey back home and to rescue. Funny thing is...there are still two seasons and 34 episodes left to go until the end.

By bringing some of its characters home, Lost has brilliantly confirmed the old cliche "it isn't the destination, its the journey." And what a journey it has been for these characters. The plot of Lost has been a convoluted labyrinth for years (in a good way), and while Season 4 continued the science ficitiony-goodness of it all it did an even better job of distilling the focus down to its characters, its themes and the desperate, continuing quest to get back home, even as they fail to realize that maybe home is not where they should be.

It is no coincidence that Lost's shortest season (13 episodes-down from a planned 16 due to the Writer's Strike) is its best by far. The story-telling was tight and focused and the rest of the elements followed suit. Previously stoic characters were given the opportunity to holler, scream and yell as their world fell around them. The stakes were higher than ever as it became even clearer that this plane crash was more than just a random event, and was instead a cosmic call to arms that brought together normal people into a game fought between fates and perhaps even more scarily, two very rich, very determined men.

Lost's producers have said that they have brought along the science fiction and fantastical elements of the show along slowly, so as to not alienate empirically minded viewers. Season 4 seems to be the instance in which that facade has slipped the farthest. Elements of time and space manipulation were introduced, leading the show into unchartered realms of grandiose ideas. But it is a credit to the actors and writers' ability that Lost's 4th season was also the most emotionally satisfying.

This satisfying dichotomy of science fiction and sound storytelling can be best seen in the mid-season episode "The Constant" (which is coincidentally, the best hour of television I saw). If I told you the episode was about a drunken Scotsman's effort to reunite with his lost love while his conscious is jumping back and forth in time, you'd probably think I was crazy. But that is what the episode was...and it worked. It didn't just work on a technical level, avoiding any possibility of paradox in its portrayal of time travel, but it worked on an emotional level. When Desmond finally calls his lost love Penny and hears her voice for the first time in years, there should not have been a dry eye in the house. After the viewers are finished weeping, they can come to realize just how magnificent what Lost just did was. "The Constant" is the perfect marriage between science fiction and drama. And brilliantly, in the end it is love that saves the main character's life in both the emotional aspect and the scientific satisfying the shows long-time conflict between the ideas of Science and Faith.

In 2008, Lost did what very few other television shows can accomplish. It played with its audiences expectations, minds, and even their concept of linear storytelling. But just as importantly, Lost played with its viewers eyes, hearts and adrenaline. Lost took what we thought would be the end of the story and made it just the beginning, all the while keeping our eyes glued to the screen.

That is why Lost is the Best TV Show of 2008.

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