Arleigh’s Top Ten (……TV Shows) of 2012

With each passing year my TV viewing habits have begun to change. I used to watch mostly network shows with the occasional premium cable channel series here and there. In the last couple years it’s been more of the opposite. I watch less and less of whatever the top networks are showing and instead have taken most of my TV viewing pleasure from basic and premium cable channels. Only one show from the big networks makes my Top Ten TV shows of 2012.

The ten shows I’ve picked as best of 2012 arrive on this list in no particular order. They’re just numbered to keep things organized…

  1. Community – This show is the only network series to make my list and it’s well-deserving. The show has garnered such a huge cult following that seems to confuzzle those who still haven’t jumped on the Community bandwgaon. The show’s hilarious and full of pop-culture and geek culture references that each new episode we see something crazy and new from showrunner Dan Harmon and his crazy crew of writers and and, even moreso, talented ensemble cast. The fact that despite low ratings each season it’s been on the air since it premiered just show’s the power of it’s fans to tell the NBC network to keep the show for another season (maybe another more after this upcoming 4th). Plus, the show has Annie’s Boobs.
  2. Justified – This was the series that premiered three years ago with a pedigree that most networks would kill to have on it’s show. You had acclaimed tv screenwriter Graham Yost as series creator and showrunner. The show was adapated from a series of Elmore Leonard novels featuring the character of U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (who also had critics favorite Timothy Olyphant in the role). The first two season’s were major hits for the series. This past year’s third season couldn’t match up to the great season 2 that earned Margo Martindale an Emmy for her role as the devious and cold-blooded matriarch of the Bennett Clan, but it did more than hold it’s own by introducing an outsider to the mix of Kentucky-grown characters in Neal McDonough’s Detroit mobster and deviant criminal mastermind Robert Quarles. the interaction between Olyphant’s Raylan Givens, McDonough’s Quarles and Walton Goggins’ Boyd Crowder was some of 2012’s best tv moments.
  3. Doomsday Preppers – This series has become a sort of guilty pleasure for me, but despite that label it’s also one of the best shows on TV. The premise of the show may sound ludicrous and hilarious at first glance. I mean it’s a series that details in each episode a couple of families who have taken to extremes their attempts to prepare for whatever doomsday will befall in world in the near future. See, it sounds like a reality tv show that’s tailor-made for what elitists would consider the redneck and uneducated section of America. The truth of the matter is that the show’s ludicrous premise also is it’s strength. We may laugh, at first, at the families who have gone to extremes to create survival shelters, home grown food stocks and other means to survive a catastrophe. While we laugh the show does point out that whether a disaster happens soon or later the very survival preparations and techniques these families make become learning tools for the viewing audience. We won’t need to go to such extremes, but the fact that we laugh at these people while we have no clue how to survive when catastrophe strikes means the joke is on us and not on the Doomsday Preppers.
  4. The Walking Dead – Speaking of doomsday, this show on AMC seems to be the show that, like it’s zombified monsters, survives it’s own producers and writers attempts to kill it off. This year saw the second half of the show’s season 2 minus it’s original creator and showrunner as Frank Darabont was fired. The show continued to pull in great ratings despite being on basic cable and writing that tended to lean towards average with frustrating characters the audience would rather see die than survive the show’s zombie apocalypse. But something miraculous happened this year and that’s the show’s newest showrunner in Glen Mazzara simplified Darabont’s more deliberate and existential narrative style and tone for the show. Under Mazzara the show’s first haf of the 3rd season saw more action and characters actually becoming more complex and nuanced. There’s been less exposition dumps to tell the audience what’s going on. The show has also amped the danger towards the characters as we saw not one but  many characters die before the season even hit the halfway mark. The show’s writing still has a ways to go, but no show on TV can match The Walking Dead in sheer tension and watercooler moments that fans (and even detractors) were left wanting more and more everytime a Sunday ended.
  5. Sons of Anarchy – The show by showrunner Kurt Sutter that was original billed as “Hamlet meets Hell’s Angels” had one of it’s better season in 2012 as we saw the biker gang SAMCRO finally split into two camps. On one side is the former President of the club Clay Morrow (played by Ron Perlman) and newest club President Jax Teller (played by Charlie Hunnam), the son of the club’s original founder John Teller, standing on the opposite side. The show returned to it’s Shakespearean roots in 2012 as we saw Jax try to maneuver SAMCRO away from it’s illegal enterprises and away from the clutches of the not just the CIA, but the Mexican cartels, rival biker gangs and inner-city crime lords. The series saw the departure of a fan favorite character in one of the most brutal and vicious deaths on TV, but also one that was necessary to push Jax into becoming more ruthless and cold-blooded in dealing with his club’s enemies. Sons of Anarchy is also aired on the FX Channel which makes it such a powerful bookend to it’s fellow series in Justified for the basic cable network.
  6. South Park – Matt Stone and Trey Parker continues to insult all and everyone. The show benefits from this and it hasn’t changed in 2012. The show looked to be slowing down after an uneven 2011, but came back strong in 2012. There’s nothing else to be said other than a show that can come up with an episode that has Honey Boo Boo and Michelle Obama in the same episode and make it all come off as hilarious and thought-provoking deserves to be on everyone’s top ten tv shows of 2012.
  7. Deadliest Catch – Discovery Channel’s long-reality series about crab fishermen in the dangerous waters of the Bering Strait and the Arctic Circle continues to be one of the best reality series on TV. It’s simple premise of just showing the rigors, dangers and the toll the job of crab fishing in the Arctic Sea continues to lure fans old and new alike back to the series each new year. It’s definitely a show that puts down anyone who thinks they have a hard job. Nothing is harder than a job these men do where every moment can literally be the moment that something will happen that will take their life. It’s must-see TV (well except for Lisa Marie with the pitching ships and heavy seas and stormy waves).
  8. Boardwalk Empire – The show that details the rise and fall and rise again of Atlantic City’s man behind the scenes Nucky Thompson during the 1920’s continues to be one of TV’s best shows and continues HBO’s almost two decade of fine, quality original tv programming. We find Steve Buscemi in fine form as the corrupt city treasurer Nucky Thompson whose actions in season 2 creates major ripple effects for 2012’s season 3. While the latest season wasn’t on the same level as 2011’s season 2 it’s uneven slow burn for most of it’s season 3 run culminated in a bloody and tense-filled affair as Nucky’s penchant for surviving leads to an almost Michael Corleone-level of retribution by season’s end.
  9. Game of Thrones – George R.R. Martin. A Clash of Kings. Three baby dragons. Peter Dinklage. Arya and Stannis Lannister. Battle of Blackwater Bay. Neil Marshall. Sexposition. Ice zombies. Nothing else need to be said. One of the best shows of 2012, if not, the best show of 2012 period.
  10. Archer – The most out there and down right funny show on TV in 2012 was the FX Channel’s animated series Archer. It’s a an animated series that spoofs the spy franchises like James Bond, Man from U.N.C.L.E. and the like, but also being one of the raunchiest shows on TV and making it all come off as hilarious. Whether it’s the title character’s child-like behavior despite being the show’s top spy or the pyromaniac and autoerotic-fixated agency secretary Cheryl, the show’s cast of characters are all so memorable that the show doesn’t even need to have celebrity guest stars to try and pull in viewers, but they do it anyway with one being Burt reynolds himself playing as himself and bringing back memories of why Burt was considered the “star’s star in his heyday””. The man is just smooth as velvet and cool as ice.

So, these were my Top Ten shows on 2012. The FX channel definitely made it’s mark by getting three shows into the list with HBO running second with two. I know there’s a major omission of Breaking Bad in this list, but I thought the new season (really just the first half of the final season with the second half due later in 2013) was a letdown after blockbuster of a season 4. It seemed more like a first half that was table-setting for what looks to be the show’s final 8-episode this year to put the show to bed on a blaze of glory.

Film Review: Judgment At Nuremberg (dir by Stanley Kramer)

I previously posted a review of the 1967 best picture nominee Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner that was somewhat critical of Stanley Kramer as a filmmaker.  In retrospect, I feel like I may have been a bit too dismissive of Stanley Kramer.  When one looks over the list of every film that has ever been nominated for best picture, one comes across the name Stanley Kramer (as a producer, a director, or both) far too many times to just blindly dismiss him for the sin of being old-fashioned.  While Kramer made his share of well-intentioned misfires like Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, he was also responsible for some films that remain important and watchable today.  Judgment at Nuremberg is one of those films.

Judgment at Nuremberg opens in 1947, with one car being driven through the ruins of Nuremberg, Germany.  Inside the car is Dan Haywood (Spencer Tracy), a judge from Maine who has been appointed chief of a military tribunal that will be passing judgment on four German judges who are accused of crimes against humanity for their legal rulings during the Nazi regime.  As Haywood quickly learns,  many people don’t feel that the Nazi judges should be held as accountable for their actions as men like Hitler, Goebbles, and Goering should have been.  It’s up to Haywood to determine whether the accused were simply doing their job or if they had a responsibility to defy the laws that they had sworn to uphold.

Judgment at Nuremberg almost feels like two films.  The first film is a courtroom drama, where the Nazi judges (the main one of which is played by Burt Lancaster) are prosecuted by the fiery Col. Tad Lawson (Richard Widmark) and defended by the idealistic Hans Rolfe (Maximilian Schell).  While Lawson approaches the case and regards the defendants with righteous anger, Rolfe takes a more cerebral approach to defending the undefensible.  Rolfe argues that the judges were following the laws of Germany and that if the tribunal finds them guilty than it will be finding the entire nation of Germany guilty.  (In a rather clever twist, director Kramer and screenwriter Abby Mann initially make the German defense attorney a far more likable character than the American prosecutor.)  During the trial, we also hear heart-wrenching testimony from two people (played by Montgomery Clift and Judy Garland) who were victimized by the Nazi regime and the judges who gave legal legitimacy to the regime’s crimes.

The second film deals with Haywood adjusting to working in Germany and trying to understand how the Nazis could have come to power in the first place.   Haywood asks several Germans to tell him about life under the Nazis and every time, he is met with bland excuses.  (“We were not political,” he is told more than once.)  The film’s strongest scenes are the ones where Haywood simply walks alone through the ruins of Nuremberg.  Spencer Tracy was a uniquely American actor and, much as he did in Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, Tracy here stood in for every American who was struggling to make sense of a changing world.

In his book Pictures At A Revolution, Mark Harris correctly points out that Stanley Kramer started out as a producer and, even after he started directing, he still approached filmmaking like a producer.  While that approach led to many uninspiring films, it was also the right approach for Judgment at Nuremberg.  Perhaps realizing that Judgment at Nuremberg was a long and talky movie about a disturbing subject manner, Kramer made the very producer-like decision to fill Judgment at Nuremberg with recognizable faces.  While this approach has proven disastrous for many films, it works quite well in Judgment at Nuremberg.

This is one of the most perfectly cast films of all time, with all of the actors bringing both their characters and the issues that they’re confronting to vivid life.  As the main defendant, Burt Lancaster brings a combination of intelligence and self-loathing to his role, playing him in such a way to reveal that even he can’t believe the evil he upheld as a judge.  Meanwhile, Spencer Tracy is perfectly cast as a world-weary man who is simply trying to figure out what justice means in the post-war world.  Maximilian Schell plays his role with so much passion that it’s impossible not to listen to him even when you despise the argument he’s making.  Marlene Dietrich has an extended cameo where she plays the widow of Nazi general who befriends Judge Haywood but still refuses to admit that she knew anything about what Adolf Hitler was doing.  Even William Shatner shows up, playing a small role as Haywood’s chief military aide and yes, he does deliver his lines in that Shatner way of his.

First released in 1962, Judgment at Nuremberg won Oscars for Best Actor (Maximilian Schell) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Abby Mann) and was nominated for 9 more: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Spencer Tracy), Best Supporting Actor (Montgomery Clift), Best Supporting Actress (Judy Garland), Best Black-and-White Art Direction, Best Black-and-White Cinematography, Best Black-and-White Costume Design, and Best Film Editing. While it’s hard to argue with the victory of West Side Story in that year’s Oscar race, Judgment at Nuremberg remains a watchable and thought-provoking film.

Artist Profile: Jeff Wall (1946– )

Jeff Wall -- A Sudden Gust Of Wind

“It’s a pitfall to have a definition of photography.” — Jeff Wall

Born in Vancouver, Canada, Jeff Wall received his Masters of the Arts from the University of British Columbia in 1970 and  gone on to become one of the most influential and important photographic artists of all time. Like Gregory Crewdson, Wall is best known for large, elaborately staged cinematographic pictures.  Wall is often credited with being one of the first artists to prove that photography could be a true art form.

Jeff Wall -- A View From An ApartmentJeff Wall -- Insomnia13_After 'Invisible Man' by Ralph Ellison, the Prologue_1999-2000Jeff Wall -- MilkJeff Wall -- MimicJeff Wall -- Picture For WomenJeff Wall -- The Crooked PathJeff Wall -- The Destroyed RoomJeff Wall -- The Flooded GraveJeff Wall -- The StorytellerJeff Wall -- The Volunteer