And Pants to Match

June 25, 2009

Top 10 uses of music in TV

Filed under: Uncategorized — pbrl @ 1:57 pm

You don’t care about this intro, so it’ll be kept short – I like making and reading top 10 lists of stuff I haven’t usually seen. So here’s my top 10 uses of songs in TV shows. This does not include any ‘score’ music, stuff written specifically for the show. I’m sure I’ve forgetten a ton, since there are thousands and thousands of choices, but here are 10 which stick out to me (I’ve limited myself to only mentioned a show once):

 

 

10. Lost, Man of Science, Man of Faith (201) – Make Your Own Kind of Music by The Mamas and the Papas

 

The first of 3 pieces of diegetic music. This music still creeps me out, even 4 years after its use and after the basic circumstance was explained. It was just so jarring to hear this pop song being played while Jack was descending into the bowels of the unknown – can you think of a song which would be weirder to hear?

 

9. Arrested Development, Key Decisions (104) – Cry Love by John Hiatt

 

I had to include one pure comedy here, and I went with this one. No specific reason for it, other than it stuck with me and was one of the few times Arrested Development didn’t use one of its 5 standard musical riffs.

 

8. House, Cane and Able (302) – Gravity by John Mayer

 

Another one I have a hard time explaining. House is always really good at picking good songs, but the use of Gravity was excellent in this episode as House’s leg pain starts to return and you can see something break inside of him.

 

7. Everwood, An Ounce of Prevention (413) – The Luckiest by Ben Folds

 

Yes, Everwood. Deal with it. One of the best melodramatic representations of a kid dealing with the fact that he’s gay, and the fact that we all have our burdens to bear in life. Great musical choice.

 

6. The Wire, -30- (510) – Down in the Hole by The Blind Boys of Alabama

 

I think The Wire only used non-diegetic music 5 times in the whole show – the montage at the end of every season. And the last one is the best, as they go back to using the theme song from the first season of the show to show us the result of all 5 years. I won’t tell you what the montage contains, lest you haven’t seen this brilliant show.

 

5. Friday Night Lights, State (122) – Devil Town by Tony Lucca

 

The first season of Friday Night Lights ranks up there with The West Wing in terms of sheer end-to-end brilliance over 22 full episodes for a rookie. And the show ended its finale with this musical choice as the team celebrates winning the state championship. Without knowing if the show would ever be renewed, the choice was inspired – a cover of a Daniel Johnston song indicating the utter deadness of Dillon, Texas, but that maybe its alright if you’re one of the dead.

 

4. ER, Be Still My Heart (613) – Battleflag by Lo-Fidelity

 

Diegetic choice #2. This is the music which is being played during a Valentine’s Day party which overtakes the screen when Lucy Knight and John Carter are stabbed. Extremely intense, and a great choice of electronic music to overlay the very frightening moment.

 

3. The West Wing, Two Cathedrals (222) – Brothers in Arms by Dire Straits

 

Never was TV more regal. Just watch the damn episode.

 

2. Scrubs, My Mistake (314) – Winter by Joshua Radin

 

Scrubs had about 10 choices which could have made this list. Along with Chuck, Scrubs is one of the best shows ever at incorporating little-known bands into the quirky storytelling. Other groups to have been featured brilliantly on Scrubs are Finger Eleven, Colin Hay, and the until-then obscure The Shins. But this was the best one, in perhaps the most emotional episode of a sitcom ever. I won’t tell you what scene this plays over in case you haven’t seen it, but watching John McGinley do his thing is fabulous.

 

1. The Office Christmas Special  – Only You by Yaz

 

Diegetic choice #3. One of the most heartwarming, “yay” moments I’ve had watching TV. It’s just so earned. The American version of The Office is a fantastic show, and the Jim/Pam relationship was and is wonderful, but the UK Office is simply different – the people are more pathetic, the lives more hopeless, the world more bleak. And so when someone wins – really wins – goddamm it feels good.

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June 13, 2009

Top 10 must unappreciated television actors of the decade

Filed under: Uncategorized — pbrl @ 10:38 am

I’ll slip the flowery introduction and just say I was inspired to write this list by watching the #1 choice on my list yesterday, realizing the decade was almost over, and combining the two ideas. So this is a list of the most underappreciated actors of the decade. That doesn’t mean the best, nor does it mean every great show has to be represented. It just means people who aren’t given enough credit for what they do. And since everyone loves a good top 10 list, here we go.

I must say in advance there are a few high profile shows I’ve never seen, including The Sopranos, The Shield, Buffy, Firefly, and Grey’s Anatomy. So if no actor from those shows are represented, it’s not because I didn’t like them. I also tried to avoid any huge starts unless it was clearly warranted.

Honorable mentions first: Clancy Brown (Justin Crowe on Carnivale, Kelvin Inman on Lost), Michael K. Williams (Omar Little on The Wire), Jaime Hector (Marlo Stansfield on The Wire), John Amos (Percy Fitzwallace on The West Wing),

10. Rob Lowe (Sam Seaborn on The West Wing, other stuff I haven’t seen)

Lowe is one of those guy who people think is such an ass that they just dismiss the actual work he does. Much was made of Lowe’s discontent at not being the main character on The West Wing, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t do fabulous work as Sam, the idealist proto-Bartlett who could craft a speech like the best of them. In a show with a ton of acting talent, Lowe never got his due. Watching the stirring season 2 episode Somebody’s going to emergency, somebody’s going to jail to really see what he could do.

9. Polly Walker (Atia of the Julii on Rome, Susan Collins on State of Play)

I assume most people reading this (all 12 of you) have never seen the BBC version of State of Play, the much superior source material for the Russel Crowe vehicle recently released. But I’m sure many of you have seen Rome, where Walker plays the scheming, brilliant mother of Octavian. The show was very theatrical, and it made people like Kevin McKidd and Ciaran Hinds much more visible (as it should have), but Walker carried the load as the female lead of the show and never gets the credit for it.

8. Keith Carradine (Wild Bill Hickock on Deadwood, Frank Lundy on Dexter)

My only bit player on the list, Carradine only did 16 episodes of television between the 2 roles I’ve listed him for. But he does it brilliantly, bringing a methodical, calculating energy to both shows. Why he doesn’t get more work, I’m not sure, but he’s fantastic.

7. Aiden Gillen (Mayor Carcetti on The Wire)

I had to resist the urge to populate this list mostly with actors from The Wire. The show is famously obscure, if there can be such a thing, so nearly every actor could qualify. But I chose Gillen because I think even fans of the show don’t give him the credit he deserves. He created such a slimy and unlikeable character without ever going over the top, and you completely bought him as an American urban politician, without a hint of his Irish accent ever coming out.

6. Michael Hogan (Saul Tigh on Battlestar Galactica)

Galactica was never a show known for its great acting, though it should have been. When the theatrics of the show are mentioned, the credit usually goes to Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnel as the male and female leads of the show. But it’s Hogan who is a revelation as Tigh, running his audience through all the highs and lows of the brutal experience of being on that ship with life on the line every day. From his barking order on the brilliant “33” to the final scene of the third season, he never failed to completely sell the character. And yet, no one ever talks about him – maybe because he refuses to do interviews, insisting that the acting should speak for itself. Indeed it does.

5. Kyle Chandler (Eric Taylor on Friday Night Lights)

Continuing the pattern of great shows with small audiences, I won’t spend my time trying to convince you to watch Friday Night Lights – its been renewed for 2 more years, so frankly I don’t need to grovel anymore. But I will just say that this man is the cornerstone of the greatest sports-related television show ever made, and the head of the most realistic family ever put on TV. He’s brilliant.

4. Matthew Fox (Jack Shephard on Lost)

Everyone hates Jack. People think he’s a boring, narcissistic, jerk. And he basically is. But Fox is the guy who sells it. In a show where he has to share screentime with Terry O’Quinn and Michael Emerson, people forget that Fox is the de facto main character of one of the most popular and critically acclaimed TV shows ever made. And he carries it. You buy him as a leader. You buy him as a self-destructive addict. You buy him as a guy who would be insane enough to risk everything and everyone for an obsession with a woman. You buy it all, and Fox is the reason why.

3. James Callis (Gaius Baltar on Battlestar Galactica)

The only show with 2 entries on the list, Callis was the single greatest acting revelation on Battlestar Galactica. I don’t need to say much since if you’ve seen the show I don’t need to convince you – how many actors could convincingly play a sympathetic, genodical Jesus figure, beard and everything? But being relegated to the Sci-Fi network, I fear he was never taken seriously. Hopefully that will change.

2. Jessica Walter (Lucille Bluth on Arrested Development)

Her? Yes, her. The single funniest female character in TV history. There’s really no one who even comes close. In most TV comedies, the women aren’t given much funny to do. Sitcoms have traditionally used women as the straight man, reacting to the idiocy of the men around them. But Walters was given everything to do, and in a show with as many brilliant comedians as actors cast, she stood out. That…BITCH!

1. John C. McGinley (Dr. Cox on Scrubs)

The absolute, unquestioned #1 on this list. It should be obvious to anyone who has seen Scrubs. Here’s the basic question I have never been able to figure out – why did House make Hugh Laurie into a huge star, but Johnny C. never get a single nomination for his role on Scrubs? No one can seriously tell me that Laurie is better. (I don’t think he’s worth either – they are both brilliant in their roles.) But McGinley pulls off the greatest combination of humor and pathos that any sitcom has ever attempted, crafting an utterly unique individual where his entire personality comes from the acting. McGinley takes the scripts given to him and turns it into magic. This man should be famous beyond belief, with 5 Emmys sitting at home. And he’s never even been nominated, while his co-stars get the fame. Still confuses me.

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