Monday, December 22, 2008

The Best Television of 2008 Part 1

This will be a reoccurring series of posts as I recall what I caught on the TV Eye this past year that moved me, inspired me, and made an impact that still hums loudly and truthfully in my mind. In no particular order:
Lost: "The Constant." Originally aired February 28, 2008. Time travel is a central theme of this series, but never has it been used to ramp up the emotional stakes as seen in this episode (which was indeed award-worthy for both an intricate script by Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindel and lead performance by Henry Ian Cusick). I won't bother to give a synopsis here, since Lost fandom has already obsessively done so at this link. I will say that anyone who caught this episode remembers it vividly as a high water mark of the fourth season that mixes suspense, romance and mind-bending temporal theory.
Mad Men: "The Wheel." Originally aired October 18, 2007. Okay, I know this technically isn't a 2008 show, but later in 2008 is when I first saw it and was moved to tears. I'm not sure watching the 13th episode season finale would work out of context, but I caught Season One in rapid order thanks to the magic of the Tivo and it totally floored me for a sequence that was heart-wrenching. Advertising executive Don Draper mines his own family photo album and un-admitted (until this moment) internal fears to pitch Kodak on how to sell their then-new slide projector. The Kodak crew have been calling the device "the wheel," until Don renames it accordingly.
As Jon Hamm as Draper delivers the monologue reproduced below, he clicks from slide to slide to accent his selling points ... tracking his life backwards as he (and we - the viewers) realizes that perhaps he does indeed love his wife, his children, and this life he has created for himself, and quite possibly has lost them forever. The editing is simple, the pictures used grainy and fully carrying that captured in the moment "family photo" look, and the musical underscore here is devastatingly sad.
One of several Mad Men scripts nominated this year for an Emmy award (the winner was the Mad Men pilot, which was also brilliant and again makes me think that the season finale has the greater emotional resonance only if watched in the proper order at the end of show - frankly, if Mad Men has not seen a second season, this would have worked as a series finale as well), this was simply put unforgettable ... with an ending that was equally so in terms of placing Draper in a life that he had (once again) created for himself.
DON:Technology is a glittering lure, but there's the rare occasion that the public can be engaged at a level beyond flash, that they have a sentimental bond with the product. My first job, I was in-house at a fur company with this old pro copywriter, a Greek named Teddy, and Teddy told me the most important idea in advertising is 'new.' Creates an itch — you simply put your product in there as a kind of calamine lotion. But he also talked about a deeper bond with the product — nostalgia. It's delicate but potent … Teddy told me that in Greek, nostalgia literally means 'the pain from an old wound.' It's a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn't a spaceship. It's a time machine. Goes backward, forward, takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It's not called 'the wheel' — it's called 'the carousel.' It lets us travel the way a child travels, around and around and back home again, to a place where we know we are loved."

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