Erin Payton and her inner circle dissect television in 2013.
Basic Cable & Netflix |
HBO & Cable | Sports & Reality | Sketch & Variety | Finales

For the record, they are ranking on the Neapolitan Scale, which was just made up: “Chocolate” being the tops of each category, “Vanilla” being . . . vanilla, and “Strawberry” being the flavor that’s still in the carton when you throw it away.

Comedy / Variety

Chocolate – “Portlandia” I still can’t figure out why this show works. Neither Fred Armisen nor Carrie Brownstein was hugely famous when it premiered. It’s on a station not known for its original programming and the sketches are definitely . . . niche. But it does work, and it gets better every season. My brother and I spent at least a half hour recently throwing out all of the random but great guest stars who have appeared on the show. From Kyle MacLachlan as Portland’s cheery mayor (and his assistant, Sam Adams, who happens to be the real life mayor of Portland) to Aimee Mann, Roseanne Barr, Jeff Goldblum, Colin Meloy of The Decemberists, Tim Robbins . . . the list goes on and on. Some recurring characters I like more than others, but none as much as when Fred and Carrie play Fred and Carrie.

Chocolate – “Key & Peele” Another niche, two-person sketch show that works. Like “Portlandia” and “Chappelle’s Show,” clearly a direct descendant, we get to see a close approximation of the real Keegan Key & Jordan Peele as they introduce their sketches in front of a live studio audience. I can watch Key & Peele’s East/West football intros 100 times and never get sick of it. I only hope that the ratings of this show stay strong so Comedy Central keeps it on for a long, long time.

Awards Shows

Chocolate – The Golden Globes Not that I didn’t love Ricky Gervais drolly ripping on everyone in the audience while simultaneously stroking his own ego, but the hiring of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler as co-hosts of the Golden Globes was a brilliant move. They bantered, they were self-deprecating, and they ripped on the audience just enough. Fey and Poehler have wisely been snatched up for both the 2014 and 2015 shows.

Vanilla – The Oscars I dreaded watching Seth MacFarlane host the Oscars so deeply that I seriously considered DVR-ing it so I could fast forward past all of his inevitable slips into Stewie talk. He didn’t end up being terrible, but he also wasn’t great. What saved an otherwise forgettable evening was the decision to do a tribute to movie musicals that included Jennifer Hudson singing “And I am Telling You I’m Not Going,” the song from “Dreamgirls” that helped earn her an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 2007, and Catherine Zeta-Jones ‘singing’ “All That Jazz” from “Chicago,” a role that also nabbed her a Best Supporting Actress award in 2003. But it was the musical number from “Les Miserables” that stole the show, starting with just Hugh Jackman onstage singing the slightly subpar “we gotta write an original song so we can be nominated” “Suddenly” and building song by song until the full cast was onstage for “One Day More.” You have to appreciate the size of Russell Crowe’s balls for singing live onstage in front of so many people who had panned his Javert in the film. In case you missed it:

Strawberry – MTV Video Awards. Robin Thicke + Miley Cyrus + Bear Leotard + Twerking = my eyes. MY EYES!

Talk Shows

I have been going to bed way too early to watch much late night TV this year, but I have been keeping up with the news.

It was announced this year that “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” will air its last episodes in February 2014; I (and everyone under the age of 78) cheered. Jimmy Fallon will deservedly be taking the helm at “The Tonight Show,” and “Saturday Night Live’s” Seth Meyers will take over Fallon’s slot. From the look of Meyer’s writing staff, it’s going to be a great show. CBS’s Craig Ferguson and ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel continue to produce hilarious shows with Kimmel’s celebrity and regular Joe pranks hitting the mark on a regular basis. And don’t count Team Coco out. His Lyft ride hijinks with Ice Cube and Kevin Hart got posted to my Facebook page about 30 times in the last week. And don’t forget David Letterman, who at 66 can still run circles around these other guys.

Two new shows entered the Talk Show circuit this year, both a surprise in their own ways. The first, “The Queen Latifah Show,” was a surprise because Her Highness … the Queen … Ms. Latifah … Dana Owens doesn’t seem to love airing her personal life in the public so it is strange that she would want to air other people’s. It looks like she had a similar show in syndication from 1999-2001; that I had never heard of it speaks to how it did. The second, “The Arsenio Hall Show,” sees the ’90s host back just like he never left. It’s too soon to tell if either or both shows will survive to see a second season.

Two shows interest me in particular because they were created as offshoots from other shows. “Talking Dead” (AMC) is hosted by Chris Hardwick who hosted MTV’s “Singled Out” game show in the ’90s and who is still hot 20 years later. The format of “Talking Dead” has Hardwick and guests discussing the preceding “The Walking Dead” episode. Meanwhile, “Watch What Happens Live” (Bravo), has former network exec-turned-TV host Andy Cohen and guests dishing on pop culture and celebrities. Originally used as a vehicle to promote other Bravo shows, Cohen’s charisma and natural talent as a host has elevated the show to the point that Oscar-winner Susan Sarandon and Voldemort himself Ralph Fiennes swang by.

Tricksters: The American Horror Story Awards

This category is devoted to shows that can’t seem to decide what they are. They are named after the FX show that was touted as a series, then a mini-series then a series of mini-serieses, now an anthology series. Whatever it is, Jessica Lange’s racking up the awards for her creepy characters. Here the winner of the 2013 American Horror Story Awards. Please, “Hostages,” don’t be on this list in 2014.

Winner: “Under the Dome” Leading up to the debut of this CBS drama, the commercials promised a shocking new mini-series from the mind of Stephen King. There were cows cut in half. There were cars exploding. There were close ups of Dean Norris and Rachelle LeFevre looking at times consternated and perplexed. In no time, however, this mini-series touted as a show. When my husband and I got to the final episode, we were salivating to finally discover the secret of the dome. As the last minute clicked by, we looked at each other with sad realization simultaneously hitting our faces. We had been hoodwinked. “Under the Dome” returns for Season 2 in Summer 2014, with the Paytons and hopefully half of 2013’s audience boycotting.

Runner- Up: “The Following” Kevin Bacon in anything is too irresistible to pass up. But Kevin Bacon in a skinny tie chasing a serial killer on my TV every week is like selling a kale smoothie to a “Biggest Loser” contestant the week before the final weigh in. Fox pulled a subtle Trickster move here. We were all certain that it was a one and done show because there was no way they could bring it back for a second season. I watched approximately 372,000 stabbings and 666 rubber masks and the FX-amplified pacemaker heartbeat of Bacon’s former FBI agent Ryan Hardy waiting for the climactic conclusion, which came . . . along with a promo for Season 2. Don’t know if I can take more Poe-worshipping stabbers for another season.


Honorable Mention: “Sharknado” In case you found yourself buried in an anthill this summer, “Sharknado” was a SyFy movie starring Ian Ziering, Tara Reid, and a bunch of CGI sharks that fall from the sky due to a hurricane. The Trickster part comes into play because although talk of the film shot to the top of the social media stratosphere, the buzz did not translate to viewers. And yet, I caught my 14-year-old niece wearing a “Sharknado” t-shirt this month. The film can’t decide if it was a triumph or a flop. I missed its original airing this summer, but will be tuning in to see it soon: when sharks fly.