Tag Archives: Lost

Best TV of the 2000s

In 2020, will there be TV anymore? Who knows. But on the off chance that the death of television hasn’t been greatly exaggerated and is indeed imminent, we can at least celebrate the good twilight years that were the 2000s. In case TV fades into oblivion or merges with the Internet or something, this wasn’t such a bad decade to have ended on.

Here are my picks for the best TV shows of the decade:

1) Friday Night Lights (NBC, 2006-present): This show, based on a movie that was based on a book, became the best adapted television show of all time. More than a high school football show, FNL is beautiful rendered, stunningly mature look at Middle America. It’s close to perfect on almost every level and one of the great dramas of the contemporary network era.

2) Lost (ABC, 2004-present): There’s nothing else like Lost on TV, though there have been plenty of imitators. The Twin Peaks-esque sci-fi mystery show has gotten better in its five seasons, and its time-traveling, shape-shifting perplexities only get more interesting. This is to say nothing of the insanely perfect ensemble cast and memorable characters that have compelled audiences to truly care and watch, sans irony, for all these years.

3) Arrested Development (FOX, 2003-2006): This show might be the most tragically short-lived and under-seen on this list. But it’s also the best comedy. Hands down. If you haven’t seen this show (which launched the careers of people like Michael Cera, Jason Bateman and Will Arnett) you must get on it right away.

4) The Office (NBC, 2005-present): Though the British series is hard to top, the American version (which at 6 seasons is now a much more substantial body of comedy) quickly became one of the best comedies of the decade, capturing the zeitgeist of the YouTube era better than any other show on TV.

5) Mad Men (AMC, 2007-present): This is the show that got hipsters obsessed with television again. It’s a show that has so much indie cred: It’s bleak, sexy, fashionable, 60s lux, and on AMC! But it’s also just really great, nuanced, challenging TV. This show offers television what Don Draper’s vodka offers his martinis: Top shelf quality.

6) 30 Rock (NBC, 2006-present): As richly intertextual and self-reflexive as Arrested Development and with a cast equally as brilliant, 30 Rock just might be the comedy that saves NBC. It’s been a slow gainer since its low-rated first season, but it’s only gotten better with time.

7) The Wire (HBO, 2002-2008): I read something once that said that after watching The Wire, there’s no way anyone could watch CSI: Miami without stabbing their eyes out with a fork. And I think that’s about accurate. The Wire is HBO’s verite show about urban life in Baltimore, and though I’ve only seen the first two of its five seasons, I can understand why the critics frequently hail it as one of the best television shows of all time. It’s gritty, prestige TV of the finest order.

8) American Idol (Fox, 2002-present): This is the show that has dominated the decade in ratings and reality TV trends. After Idol came all the other dancing, performing, talent shows. But Idol’s contribution was also to the emerging landscape of “convergence” television in general—perfecting the art of audience interactivity, product placement, and trans-media storytelling (a live show, a concert tour, single available on iTunes, etc). It’s not Citizen Kane or anything, but it’s a ridiculously well-oiled machine of moneymaking pop entertainment. And I applaud that.

9) Friends (NBC, 1994-2004): Yes, this show was on in the 2000s, and while it might not have been the best years for the show, it was still pretty darn good post-Y2K. By the end the six “friends” had become icons getting $1 million a piece for each episode. The show was THAT huge.

10) Laguna Beach (MTV, 2004-2006): Before The Hills became a parody of the genre, there was the exquisitely rendered, truly original reality/soap hybrid Laguna Beach. Its celebration of conspicuous consumption and rich white American youth ushered in a new era for MTV and the youth culture at large. Real teens acting like actors playing real teens, driving Range Rovers and wearing Stella McCartney coats… GREAT TV.

Honorable Mention: The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, Chapelle’s Show, Da Ali G Show, Dexter, South Park, Rome, Prison Break.

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Notes on a Postmodern Weekend

(Told in “Twitter” style)

I had a very disparate, fragmented, over-mediated, maybe-a-bit-too-breakneck weekend. In L.A., these seem to be the norm rather than the exception, but this weekend struck me as a particularly postmodern pastiche of way too much that any one mind should encounter in a 60-hour period. To my horror, one of the ways I coped with the weekend was to think in status updates. But since I don’t Twitter and only occasionally update my Facebook status via my phone, I could not publicize my disjointed weekend narrative to the world.

The only reason I am doing it now (and believe me: this is something I generally oppose) is because, here in the remaining hours of Sunday night, my mind needs to process the weekend in some way—even if it is a bastardized, truncated Twitter-esque form.

Friday

Lunch at the North Woods Inn in La Mirada. There are peanut shells and sawdust on the floor, and for some reason I ordered a Shirley Temple for my drink. – 1:07pm

Just found out N.T. Wright is speaking tomorrow (Saturday) morning at St. Andrews Presbyterian in Newport. I decide I’m going, and tell my coworker Jason about it. He’s coming too. – 4:59pm

Driving in horrible rush hour to Hollywood for the opening reception of the City of Angels Film Festival. Listening to Kanye West remixes. – 5:45pm

Gas light is on. Emergency stop at Valero gas on Melrose. Bon Iver: “The business of sadness…” – 6:22pm

Just saw an amazing documentary – The Garden – about the South Central garden controversy in L.A. Thought: Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is quite the opportunist. – 9pm

Delighted by the chance to meet “Gilliebean,” an avid reader/commenter on my blog, during a break between films. – 9:14pm

Thrilled at the chance to see a recently restored print of the 1962 film The Exiles on the big screen. Love films about L.A. – 11:02pm

Driving back to Whittier to sleep. – 11:46pm

Facebook update: Brett is haunted by the past of the city he lives in (Los Angeles). – 12:21am

Saturday

Six hours of sleep. Picking up Jason in Brea. No time for breakfast. – 8:04am

St. Andrews Presbyterian, listening to the brilliant N.T. Wright wow a packed sanctuary. I make note: there are lots of seminary-style hipsters here. – 9:27am

Vintage N.T. – “The point of the resurrection is that God’s new creation has begun! And we have a job to do…” – 10:17am

Driving back from Newport, trying to process more than 2 hours of N.T. Wright’s stunning discussion of “Paul for tomorrow’s world.” Thinking about how it all relates to art. – 12:40pm

Picked up Chick Fil A for quick lunch at home. Just enough time to update my blog “quote of the week” with something N.T. Wright said. – 1:34pm

Thought about taking a nap instead of heading back to L.A. for more film festival. Little sleep is catching up with me. Decide against it. – 2:00pm

Driving to L.A. again. Animal Collective: “No more running…” Air conditioner in February. Traffic makes me want to die. – 2:50pm

Just screened Fatih Akin’s The Edge of Heaven but dozed through parts. Probably should have stayed home to sleep. – 5:30pm

Between films. Coffee Bean on Sunset across from the DGA. Free wifi. Enough time to write most of a blog post before my thoughts on The Garden and The Exiles fade into mushy memory. Blog ends up being about how film helps us avoid mushy memory. Drinking ice tea and eating fruit salad. – 6:24pm

Just screened the impressive Munyurangabo, which played at Cannes last year and won the AFI Fest Grand Jury prize. Debut feature of Christian filmmaker, Lee Isaac Chung. Definitely the highlight of the festival. Chatted with Chung after the screening about our mutual affection for Hou Hsiao-Hsien. – 9:48pm

Met some friends at a bar in Whittier. Reassured a hipster friend that “I will be kind to hipsters in my book.” Two more stops before the night is through and I collapse in bed. – 11:55pm

Sunday

Up early again. Driving to Long Beach on a lovely Sunday morning. Andrew Bird. – 8:50am

Enjoyed the hipster-friendly 9:30am service at Grace Brethren Church in Long Beach. Perhaps I’ll mention this church in my book.

Listening to Lost expert and EW.com columnist Jeff Jensen give engaging talk on the spiritual aspects of Lost to a crowd at Grace Brethren. He’s a member here. He thinks “Jack’s Grandpa” is actually Jack himself! OMG! – 11:45pm

Eating carne asada tacos and fried ice cream on the grass in Long Beach, post-church, with some hipster friends. – 1:18pm

Driving from Long Beach to Los Angeles. Horrific traffic for a Sunday. All because there is a disaster film being shot downtown and everyone slows down to see whether the piled up cars on the overpass are real or a movie. L.A. is such a Baudrillardian fantasyland. – 2:50pm

Took a wrong turn and ended up in Chinatown. 20 minutes later I’m back on the right track. – 3:12pm

Super late to the next screening at the festival—Silent Light—but manage to get there in time to see the epic opening shot. Love this movie. – 3:40pm

Panel discussion after Silent Light includes Bresson and Dreyer references, and a lot of numbing analysis which kind of ruins a film that is meant to just “be.” – 6:36pm

Back at Coffee Bean, hour-long chat about theological film criticism with the director of the Los Angeles Film Studies Center. I’m invited to lecture to students on Tuesday. – 7:15pm

Driving home. Animal Collective: “Am I really all the things that are outside of me?” – 8:20pm

Still driving. Thinking of my weekend, lamenting not having had any time to work on my book, in awe that I put 400 miles on my car since Friday, and never even left greater L.A. Thinking of blogging the weekend Twitter-style, sort of ironically but also as therapy. – 8:42pm

Finally home. Dinner. Writing blog post while watching the DVR replay of this afternoon’s Kansas-Missouri b-ball game. Rock Chalk Jayhawk! – 9:25pm

Facebook update: Brett is exhausted after a strenuously postmodern weekend. – 9:34pm

Took a break from writing to eat a brownie and watch a screener of the upcoming NBC show, Kings. I enjoy both the brownie and the show. – 10:40pm

Finished proof-reading blog post, typing the final few sentences. – 11:11pm.

Picking out image for blog post. Dead but soon-to-be resurrected John Locke from Lost seems somehow appropriate. Resurrection seemed a thematic constant over this, the first Lenten weekend, from N.T. Wright to Silent Light and so forth… – 11:22pm

One final note before I publish this thing: Check out my article in Relevant magazine, “The Problem of Pride in the Age of Twitter,” by clicking here. It’s on page 26. – 11:34pm.

Changing Culture: Through or in Spite of the Marketplace?

Here’s a question I’ve been pondering for a number of years: when you want to change culture, is it better to start from an analysis of what the culture/market wants, or is it better to start from a personal conviction or idea about what the culture should be like? That is: should we work within the interests of the culture—however misdirected or disordered they may be—or should we work to change the interests of the culture by offering something new?

It’s a dialectic that some people might reduce to elitism vs. populism; top-down vs. bottom-up change. But those binaries don’t really get at what I’m talking about… I’d consider myself neither an elitist nor a fan of top-down reform, but when it comes to culture, I’m increasingly skeptical about letting the audience be our guide. I don’t know… maybe that is elitist.

Ultimately, it’s about what you think about market sovereignty in the cultural industries.

The film industry, for example, has differing opinions about market sovereignty. On one hand, the big studios are totally responsive to the box office and the box office alone. If the people turn out to see Norbit in droves, Hollywood will make Norbit 2, no matter what they’d like to do. But on the other hand, there are loads of more artistic and independent-minded films being churned out every year with personal and political messages unconcerned with the approval of large swaths of the marketplace. There are companies like Plan B and Participant Productions that only make these “change people’s opinions” type films, to more or less tepid financial results.

Likewise in the music, television, and publishing industries. There are market-minded approaches (find the next Jonas Brothers, Lost, or Dan Brown before these interests wane!), but there are also personal/artistic approaches.

The question is this: can we change anything if we create some personal, challenging artistic product that only reaches a few hundred people of a certain niche? Or can we only ever effect change if we research and respond to the market trends, creating products that may not be our ideal but are nevertheless moving more units?

Ironically, this was a crucial question in my mind last weekend when I was at the GodBlog Convention in Las Vegas.

On my blog, I often find myself in conflict between what I really want to write about and what I think people want to read. To be quite frank, I find myself responding to the statistics detailing which types of posts post the highest numbers. But in the end, I wonder if I really want to be beholden to “the audience” in this way (especially since I’m doing this for free!).

The question remains unanswered in my mind, and it goes way beyond my own personal blog.

You see it in all aspects of society. In politics, for example. The two presidential candidates are almost completely defined by a response to what the populace is telling them they are concerned with. The media, on the other hand, is more oriented towards setting its own agenda; but even within media there is a wide discrepancy on this. On one hand there are people like Matt Drudge who determine “news” based on what is the most sensationalistic and scandalous (i.e. that which the public is most interested in); on the other there are things like C-SPAN’s BookNotes which hopes to improve the discourse around new literature and has little to no concern for what the audience wants.

Both are impacting culture, in different ways. But which will—at the end of the day—leave the culture better off?