I Like to Watch

And then God looked down on the past TV season, and saw that it was good, and that "Battlestar Galactica" and "The Colbert Report" and "Lost" and "Big Love" were particularly good.


Heather Havrilesky
May 28, 2006 4:00PM (UTC)

As we near the end of the 2005-06 TV season, it's important to take a little time to look back on the cornucopia of splendid televised entertainments, hold hands and say to each other, "Indeed, it was good."

Yes, it was good, brother! A solid TV season by any measure. We all mourned the departure of "Six Feet Under," to be sure, and for a while after that, the world seemed dark and gloomy and bereft of promise. But by the time the autumn wind was blowing strong in the trees, a new batch of shows were ready to be harvested, and their fruits proved to be sweet and mellow.

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But brother, it's been a long harvest, and frankly, I'm exhausted. Between the finales of "The OC," "24," "Desperate Housewives" and "Lost," not to mention the others I couldn't miss but didn't have time to write about, the last few weeks haven't exactly been a honeymoon. Ahem.

Still, I couldn't resist writing a lot about each of those shows -- good or bad, there's a lot to say about them. Even though season finale recaps can be pretty short, about 500 words, most of those pieces clocked in at three times that long, with yesterday's "Lost" recap tipping the scales at a whopping 2,700 words. It was a lot of fun, but frankly, compadres, I'm out of words. And when you have no words, what do you do? For more answers, turn with me, as we so often do, to the Book of Ex-boyfriends.

Listless listing
Ex-boyfriends, Chapter 1, Verses 1-14. In the beginning -- or a few years ago, at any rate -- I had a boyfriend who made lists all the time. His lists were a little bit like the ones you'd find in Entertainment Weekly: "Ten Best Blockbusters of the Summer, 2003," "Likely Best Picture Nominees for 2004," "Ten Places I Want to Visit." Some of these lists he would actually write on tiny slips of paper, then fold them up and keep them in his wallet. Sometimes, right in the middle of a conversation, he'd pull out one of his lists and add something to it, based on what we were talking about.

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I thought it was a tiny bit simple-minded, to boil everything down to lists all the time. In fact, I've actively avoided making lists of the shows I watch, or keeping a running hierarchy of my favorite shows, because it feels like killing the golden goose. Why lay it all out? Why not experience the universe of televised entertainments with the disorganized, awestruck mind of a small child? After all, at a time when the TV world is fertile and green, categorizing each and every show can feel like packing the fruit in boxes and sending it to market prematurely.

That said, we've all feasted well on the fruits of this harvest, so why shouldn't I take a second to look back and give a hard back-slap of approval to those shows that consistently amused, inspired and entertained me over the course of this past season?

Best Shows of the Fall 2005 - Spring 2006 Season
1. "Veronica Mars"
2. "Big Love"
3. "Lost"
4. "The Colbert Report"
5. "24"
6. "Project Runway"
7. "The Sopranos"
8. "Battlestar Galactica"
9. "The Shield"
10. "The Office"
11. "The Daily Show"
12. "The Amazing Race," "America's Next Top Model," "Survivor" 13. "Weeds" 14. "Arrested Development"

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This list is in no particular order, but it reflects the shows that I found the most rewarding and fun to watch. Giving it a clear order would feel a little bit arbitrary, since it's tough to compare, say, "24" with "The Office." And I think it's a little bit queer to categorically state that "Lost" is a better show than, say, "Big Love," when each show has its own distinct charms, or that "The Sopranos" was worse this season than "Battlestar Galactica" was, when "The Sopranos" has to be credited with changing the landscape of television completely, and as such can't really be compared, in its final season, to shows that are not only a horse of an entirely different color, but that haven't been airing since 1999.

That said, I do think that I enjoyed and anxiously awaited new episodes of "Battlestar Galactica" more than any other show this season, with "Project Runway" coming in a close second, and "Big Love" and "Lost" sharing third place.

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"The Colbert Report" was also, quite obviously, a revelation: deeply weird, original and almost always funny. And (thank the good Lord for small blessings) as the world goes to hell, "The Daily Show" is still there, with its consistent hilarity, to save us from eternal damnation.

OK, all of this TV-watching may have permanently shortened my attention span, because in the original version of this piece, I completely forgot about "Arrested Development" and "Weeds," two of the funniest, most entertaining shows on TV. Now, "Arrested Development" is an understandable oversight, since its departure was very painful for me, so painful that I've pushed the show's very existence out of my mind in an effort to move on. But "Weeds"? How could I have forgotten "Weeds"? Thanks to the wonders of internet publishing, though, I can insert these two fine shows into the mix after the fact. Shady? Maybe, but in this case, necessary.

Reality fans and enemies of the genre alike will note that I shoved all of my reality staples (except for "Project Runway," which deserves its own slot somehow) together as No. 12. If this seems like an afterthought, that's because it is. As much as I refuse to miss an episode of "The Amazing Race" or "America's Next Top Model," they've come to feel like their own little marginalized category of viewing pleasure. First of all, I've watched so many seasons of each of these shows now, it's pretty tough to feel like I'm going to be surprised by anything I see when a new season airs, and really, it's better if I don't expect any big surprises, or expect to remember anything that happened once the season is over.

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It's like a really satisfying trip to the aptly named In-N-Out Burger. When you're really hungry and you're holding that hamburger in your hands? Damn, it feels good. But when it's over, all you want is a nice nap. Do you linger in the memories, or discuss what happened with friends? No. You fall asleep in front of your computer.

I guess the blush of true love I once felt for reality TV is gone. Oh, but I'm married to reality, and it will always be a part of my life. Even as the thrill is gone, a solid commitment to the comforts of reality amusements remains.

Huffing around
A few notable shows that didn't make the list, but that I watch semi-regularly nonetheless: "House," "Grey's Anatomy," "Huff" and "Invasion." Here's my thinking on those shows: "Grey's Anatomy" is really entertaining and smart, but I'm not sure that I'm getting all that much out of watching it from week to week. Ditto with "House," which, despite its charms, feels a little hysterical and over the top a lot of the time. He's a murderer! The virus is spreading! House killed a man! Sometimes it feels like they've taken a big page from "24." Very Fox, mind you, but a little bit too much to take week after week. "Invasion" just didn't get me going, somehow. I never liked those characters, I don't know why. They reminded me of that friend of your best friend who you don't like all that much, but still have to hang out with occasionally. The blond alien mom bummed me out. The kids annoyed me. The sheriff was too evil to be interesting. I know lots of smart people really loved "Invasion," but I was never that engaged by it.

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Finally, "Huff": So much potential there, but the show never really surprises me. It seems like the same stuff keeps happening, over and over and over again. The same could be said for other shows, like "The Sopranos," so I guess the real point is that the stuff that happens isn't all that interesting on "Huff." I don't like Craig aka Huff, I find his wife really boring, and their relationship feels really flat. Even when there's a shift, like when they went on vacation together and suddenly felt passionate about each other again, there's no spark there, and I don't care whether they stay together or not. The dialogue between them just isn't that fresh or smart or insightful.

And Jesus, the mentally unstable brother brings me down! How many times do we have to see him walk down Venice Boulevard, flinching at every face he sees, while that grating "He's going crazy! He's going crazy!" music plays in the background? We get it, OK? The life of the mentally ill is extremely challenging, and having this guy as a brother would be very, very difficult. But his craziness never takes any new, interesting shape, and it makes him a very tedious character to spend time with.

Even Oliver Platt's character, Russell, who's clearly the highlight of the show, has fallen into old habits lately: doing drugs again, wrecking himself, getting himself in trouble. Haven't we seen all of these scenes before? Why couldn't Sharon Stone stick around a little longer? Why does Russell have two speeds: Under control, and out of control?

I wish "Huff" were just a little bit less repetitive, and the characters could occasionally strike out on a new path, because, as great as this season of TV has been, there's definitely a hole that "Six Feet Under" left behind. I would love to see another show concern itself with the challenges of modern life with the same intensity, intelligence and wit of "Six Feet Under." It's a lot to ask, I know, but I'll ask anyway, because I miss David and Keith and Ruth and Claire and Brenda and even Nate, and I know there's someone out there who's capable of creating characters who are that fascinating and weird and unpredictable again.

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Drawing conclusions
Ah, but this is not a time for looking forward. We'll worry about the summer season, with its blazing sun and its long dry spells, next week. We'll concern ourselves with "Deadwood," and "Entourage" and "Tom Goes to the Mayor" and the show whose title alone can make you break out in hives, "How to Get a Guy."

For now, though, let's gaze upon our blessings and reflect on how the good Lord of televisual delights has answered our prayers. I asked the Lord to allow me to set aside my reality obsession, and refocus my eyes on high-quality dramas this year, and he made it so! Praise be! Next fall, perhaps we could ask the Lord for more than one or two comedies that are actually funny, since there are so very many that are so very lacking in anything resembling humor. Perhaps we might beseech the Lord to bestow upon us a brand new style of reality show, one that's strange and fun and doesn't involve Tori Spelling in any way.

But let's leave our hopes for the next fall season aside for the moment, and bask in our gratitude for the fine offerings we've enjoyed thus far! And since I recognize that my gratitude is incomplete and that I may have missed some fine shows, in casting my eyes back upon the season, please send me your list of favorite shows, so that I might sample some new delights in seasons to come.

Until the next time, go in peace, and may your idle viewing hours in front of the television be many, and be filled with cackling laughter, deep sighs, and lots of salty snacks!

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Next week: A taste of some of the sickly sweet, empty calories in store for you this summer!


Heather Havrilesky

Heather Havrilesky is a regular contributor to the New York Times Magazine, The Awl and Bookforum, and is the author of the memoir "Disaster Preparedness." You can also follow her on Twitter at @hhavrilesky.

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