The best part about the holiday season — besides the fact that it is the holiday season; suck it, hattterrrrrsssssss — is that the fall television season has basically come to an end. By this time next week, most of your favorite shows will have shuffled off until January (or longer in the case of Boardwalk Empire and The Walking Dead) when they’ll return to warm your lonely winter evenings. In honor of this quickly approaching television service outage, it feels appropriate to remind you about a few veteran shows you might have removed from the DVR list. Don’t worry, though: There’s always time to catch up over Christmas.
While you weren’t looking, Grey’s Anatomy got good again. Not “good” like Gossip Girl — few series reach trashy transcendence (trashendence?) like Josh Schwartz’s paean to excess and fake tans — but legitimately good. Following a crackerjack season finale (when a disgruntled shooter was loose in the hospital, killing extraneous cast members with extreme prejudice), the Shonda Rhimes-produced medical soap opera has reached perfect balance between soap and opera this fall. Whereas past seasons of Grey’s Anatomy have all-too-quickly dispensed from any serious drama (remember when George died? Yeah, neither do his “best friends”), season seven has dealt almost exclusively with the after-effects of the shooting. By adding those consequences to the plot, and dealing with them believably — yes, I will believe that Cristina is suffering from PTSD after having to perform life saving surgery on her best friend’s husband while a gun was pointed at her head — Grey’s feels like something other than homework. It’s rare that a show has a creative rebound after six seasons of fattening up on complacency, but Rhimes and her cast have succeeded. Is it because Katherine Heigl is gone and the cast isn’t walking around on eggshells? Don’t discount that theory. Here’s hoping what has been a very strong first-half of the season continues into the New Year.
How I Met Your Mother
Some stuffy critics might have written the series off, but the sixth season of the CBS sitcom has been a joy to watch from minute one. Here’s the thing about HIMYM: People complain about the last two years being weaker efforts, but when you watch them interspersed with the reruns on The CW or Lifetime, it really is hard to tell the episodes apart, other than the hairstyles. Maybe the jokes aren’t as fresh, maybe the characters aren’t as sharp, but the reasons you loved How I Met Your Mother in 2007 haven’t changed all that much. To wit: It’s a funny, New York-centric sitcom about friends you actually recognize, and want to hang out with. Oh, sure: Ted’s a douche; but tell me you don’t have a friend in your group who is also a douche. (People collect douches; it’s life!) And Ted aside, any show that offers you the chance to see Jason Segel on a weekly basis needs to be watched religiously. Is it going too far to say that he’ll probably win an Oscar once he works with a director who can take advantage of his inherent loneliness? I didn’t think so. Get this man a P.T. Anderson film, post-haste.
Truism: The Office stopped being a comedy sometime during last season. Not coincidentally, last season was its strongest outing since season three. That trend has kept up during season seven, if only because the exit of Steve Carell has allowed the show to remember that Michael Scott is actually just sad, lonely outcast and not a live-action Homer Simpson. The American version of The Office will never feature the pathos of the Ricky Gervais original, but the handling of both Michael and Dwight this season have been stellar, bordering on genius. When Michael called Holly during a “herpes scare” and left her a voicemail about how he didn’t imagine the greatness of their relationship, it was one of Carell’s most affecting moments in the course of the series — if he gets an Emmy next summer for the sum body of his work as Michael Scott, I hope it’s for that episode.
Similarly, look no further than last week’s “China” for Rainn Wilson’s Emmy moment…and it was only a look in the rearview mirror. For too long Dwight has been an annoying caricature there to allow the writers to indulge their worst instincts; we have seen glimpses of Dwight’s humanity during the last seven years, but they were misplaced. (After all, did anyone actually care about Dwight and Angela?) Showing that the office scoundrel actually does care about Pam (and by extension Jim and the rest of the Dunder-Mifflin employees) was the culmination of a character long con that hit home with maximum impact.
No, The Office isn’t as funny as 30 Rock or Community, and it doesn’t feel as “cool” as Parks & Recreation, but those who have put the time in are being rewarded this season. It feels like a series swansong. Too bad it isn’t…