Category Archives: POP CULTURE

The Top 20 Television Seasons – #10

We have finally cracked the top 10. Just think about that, this is one of the 10 very best seasons that television has had to offer since 1999. It also marks the first time we have a repeat show in the top 20 (the list has six shows that appear more than once). Coming in at #10 I have Game of Thrones Season 4. In what has been their best season to date from top to bottom (although this current Season 6 may have something to say about that, too early to tell), Season 4 mixed the very best of what Thrones has to offer into an unforgettable experience.

But before I go on, here is the list so far:

The Top 20 Television Seasons – #20

The Top 20 Television Seasons – #19

The Top 20 Television Seasons – #18

The Top 20 Television Seasons – #17

The Top 20 Television Seasons – #16

The Top 20 Television Seasons – #15

The Top 20 Television Seasons – #14

The Top 20 Television Seasons – #13

The Top 20 Television Seasons – #12

The Top 20 Television Seasons – #11

#10 Game of Thrones Season 4 – Score: 32

Rewatchabilty:  8

Recently I have re-watched the entire series in the past year with my roommates to catch them up on this amazing television show. And after each season they kinda give me their thoughts on the season as a whole. Without question Season 4 was their favorite by far. And it really has to do with the amount of memorable moments that happened in that season. Starting with the surprise death of the evil psychotic bastard Joffrey Baratheon in just the second episode! I remember watching this initially with all my friends and we all stood up cheering for him to die as he was choking to death as if we were rooting for Jordy Nelson to take one to the house (cold I know, but I guarantee you we were not in the minority).

Throw in the Tyrion Lannister murder accusations and his epic speech at the trial that pretty much screamed, “Give me the damn Emmy right now!”. And if that wasn’t enough that he was to be wrongfully accused of Joffrey’s death, he demands a trial by combat. But who would defend him? Jaime and his one arm? Bron? It was pretty interesting to see that yes, Bron’s loyalty and friendship was based on money (it is always a business decision in the Capital) but more than money, self-preservation is just as paramount to the him. Prince Oberyn Martell takes the duty of Tyrion’s champion.”The Viper” didn’t do it in some sense of justice for Tyrion or beleaguered friendship, but for revenge against the family (Lannisters) and the person (Ser Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane) that were responsible for the rape and murder of his sister Elia Martell and her little children.

The match and the episode aptly titled “The Mountain vs The Viper” was a landmark moment that I don’t think any of us would soon forget. Prince Oberyn more than lived up to his nickname and nearly slayed the immovable Mountain, only for his over-confidence and showboating to get the best of him. Just like in the horror movies, the monster is never dead until you deliver the head shot. And it turned out to be the Viper that got it’s head crushed.

I’d say more but lets leave some of the meat and potatoes for our other categories.

Acting Performances: 8

Game-of-Thrones-Season-3-game-of-thrones-33779427-1600-1200 (2)

When Emmy season rolls around, Game of Thrones is no stranger. In 2014 they were nominated for an astonishing 20 Emmys! Those that pertained to purely acting, they notched 4 Emmy nominations. Best Supporting Actor (Peter Dinklage, perennial nominee for his role as Tyrion Lannister), Best Supporting Actress (Lena Headey as Cersi Lannister), Outstanding Guest Actress (Diana Rigg as the smart and witty Lady Olena Tyrell) and Outstanding Casting for a Drama Series. Unfortunately they went 0-4 in those categories but that shouldn’t tarnish anything, Breaking Bad was on their victory lap in 2014 and that was to be expected.

But what I really wanted to touch on is the casting overall, yes Dinklage is at the height of his powers and Lena Headey is always amazing, but the sum of their parts is greater as the whole than any one actor/actress. Not even mentioned are the stellar performances of the Lannister patriarch Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance), the breakout of Pedro Pascal (Oberyn Martell and the spunk of little Maisie Williams (Ayra Stark). Their are few dramas on this list that has the enormous bench of characters that GOT can pull from and still have no wasted screen time. The only other one that I could think of is The Wire (coming soon).

Acting Moment of the Season:

Lastly before I leave this category, I want to leave you with the “acting moment of the season”. Yeah I just came up with that 10 seconds ago but it’d be a nice touch to the top ten going forward. It should be no surprise…

“By the laws of gods and men”

Season Plot Arc: 8

the_watchers_on_the_wall_by_88grzes-d7lo859

S4 of Game of Thrones was probably the most balanced one they had throughout the series. Not any one storyline or plot arc dominated throughout the season. Joffrey and his death came out strong to start the season. Jon and the Wildlings paced the middle part. Tyrion’s accusations built up the level of drama steadily. And then we had huge finishes with the trial by combat match and then the penultimate episode, which if you are any fan of the show, you know is always the very best.

Baelor, Blackwater, Rains of Castemere and lastly The Watchers on the Wall. Those are the last four penultimate episodes and they are also on the short list for best Thrones episodes to date. In Season 4 we saw Jon Snow infiltrate the Wildling camp and become one of their own. He got to meet the Wildling “King Beyond The Wall”Mance Rayder. He gained a understanding of the plight of the Wildlings and why marching South wasn’t just territory expansion but survival at its core. The ever present threat of the White Walkers was drawing near and even Jon could see that now.

Jon ends up deserting the Wildlings and escaping back to Castle Black, just in time to warn them about the imminent attack that was coming. Alas, we come to episode 9 of Season 4, the battle for the Castle Black.

It what was an even more expansive project than Blackwater, The Watchers on the Wall felt like a one hour movie set with explosions, one-on-one combat, giants and equally larger animals (like a Lord of the Ring movie) charging the gates. For one hour we saw the drastically outnumbered men of the Night’s Watch hold their ground versus the thousands of Wildlings that Mance threw at them. And they held strong, barely, but they held it through the night. Question was, what would happen the next night? Jon knew they couldn’t withstand another attack, so he marched out to meet Mance Rayder, unarmed, with no plan or idea how this would play out.

Finale/Cliffhanger: 8

As good as their penultimate episodes are, the finales never quite seem to live up to the billing. And this is not so much a dig at the finales but that the current string of episodes 9’s are just that damn good. In the Season 4 finale Thrones left us with a lot to digest. Jon makes peace with the Wildlings but only with the assurance of Stannis Baratheon and his army. The “one true king” ambushed the Wildling army and takes them hostage. Stannis plans to take the North back from Roose Bolton and he’ll need Castle Black as his base of operations before he does so. Jon marches the Wildlings through the gates of Castle Black, to the dismay of some prominent Watchmen.

Back in King’s Landing, Cersi threatens to go public with her “twinsest” with Jaime if Tywin forces her to marry Loras Tyrell. Meanwhile, Tyrion is scheduled to be put to death following the loss of his trial by combat. His brother Jaime finds a way to plead for a stay of execution. Tywin agrees to spare his son’s life if Jamie heads back to Casterly Rock and produces an heir to the Lannister family. Jaime agrees.

Daenerys learns that her dragon Drogon is responsible for the death of a little farm girl, she realizes that these beasts will never be tamed and decides to lock the other two up.

Brienne and Podrick catch up to Arya and the Hound. Brienne pleads for Arya to come into her protection, but the Hound will have none of it. In one of the better brute strength single combat fights you will see, Brienne defeats the Hound, mortally injuring him. After Brienne leaves, the Hound pleads with Arya to end him, she doesn’t and walks off to leave him to die a slow and painfull death.

One of the more overlooked storylines, Brandon Stark finally reaches the Weirwood Tree he, Hodor and the Reed twins were looking for. All the sudden they are attacked by Wights, they kill Jojen but the rest of the crew is saved by some weird looking children throwing fire ball blasts. The Children of the Forest lead Bran into the Weirwood Tree were he meets the Three-Eyed Raven. He states he has been waiting all his life for Bran, and while he will not walk again, he will fly.

Back in Kings Landing, Jaime organizes an eleventh hour escape for his brother Tyrion. With the help of Varys, he escapes through the tunnels of the Red Keep. Not before grabbing a crossbow and looking for his father in his chambers, he finds his former love, Shae, in his fathers bed. He strangles her to death and finds his father in the bathroom. After some words are exchanged, Tywin says “you are no son of mine” as Tyrion pumps three arrows into his father. He flees the capital with Varys in a wooden crate, their destination, Volantis in the East.

The show ends with Arya convincing a Bravosi man to give her passage to the city by giving him the two-faced coin and uttering the words given to her by Jaquen H’ghar.

Arya and Tyrion head East, the bells toll in the capital as Tywin is found dead. Daenerys dragons are chained up. The Wildings and the Night’s Watch have reached a tentative peace. Bran finally found the Three-Eyed Raven. And the White Walkers draw closer and closer.

Defining Moment:

A season this good gets two of them:

A little 10 minute montage of Watchers on the Wall

The Mountain vs The Viper

 

-MikeV87

 

 

 

 

The Top 20 Television Seasons – #11

Dexter Season 2 was the first time I had that “tv moment”. You know what I’m talking about, the feeling you get after episode 5 of Making a Murderer where you’re completely all in for the season’s remaining slate. Whether that’d be at 3 in the afternoon or 3 in the morning, you don’t care, all good judgement goes out the window! The early part of 2010 was a landmark year for me in discovering “good” television (Dexter and Breaking Bad in the span of 3 months). Season 1 of Dexter was great in its own right but the drama of Season 2 left me starring at my reflection on the dark screen, speechless as to what I had just witnessed. Never before had I experienced “that” type of feeling and it is “that” feeling that ultimately led to this list and my love of TV.

The list so far:

The Top 20 Television Seasons – #20

The Top 20 Television Seasons – #19

The Top 20 Television Seasons – #18

The Top 20 Television Seasons – #17

The Top 20 Television Seasons – #16

The Top 20 Television Seasons – #15

The Top 20 Television Seasons – #14

The Top 20 Television Seasons – #13

The Top 20 Television Seasons – #12

#11 – Dexter Season 2 – Score: 31

Rewatchability: 8

7633cf1da98b6a9edc84665eba4718fe.jpg

While Season 1 was about finding out about Dexter’s origin, Season 2 was about Dexter’s secret and the great lengths he went to keep his dark passenger from being exposed to the whole world. As suspenseful as it was seeing Dexter thwart the bad guys over and over, Season 2 upped their stakes when Dexter became Miami Metro’s public enemy #1, as the search for the “Bay Harbor Butcher” took place. Yes Sgt. James Doakes was always out to get Dexter, and that made for some great back and forth between the adversaries, even to the point where Dexter dropped his facade and let his sergeant see his real self. Instead of Dexter hunting his eventual blood slides, it was he who became the hunted. At Dexter’s every turn, there was Doakes, and if that wasn’t enough, the discovery of his underwater burial ground brought the attention of renowned serial killer specialist, Special Agent Frank Lundy.

This is also the first time we see Dexter really trust an outsider with his “dark passenger”, in the bat-shit crazy Lila Tournay. She slowly seduces him with her free spirit and willingness to accept a person’s darkness, no matter how horrible it might be. But eventually, even Dexter knows that even Lila cannot be trusted and must be stopped. But it doesn’t hide the fact that she helped Dexter open up to her, if no one else, at least she saw him for who he really was and didn’t look away.

But where Dexter Season 2 really hung its hat on was the cat and mouse game played by both Dexter Morgan and Sgt. James Doakes. I can still remember the feeling like it was yesterday. Doakes catches Dexter in the act of disposing a body, he has him dead to rights, of course though, Doakes makes a fatal error and lets Dexter get too close as they are now locked in a struggle. Dexter subdues Doakes in a choke hold and the sergeant wakes up delirious in a cabin. He shouts at Dexter, that he will have to kill him, Dexter closes the door as the shouting persists. He slumps down as his whole world crashes down around him….episode ends.

“How the hell is gonna get out of this?” I say to myself.

That right there is the moment I referenced above. The feeling of sharing Dexter’s hopelessness and being just as lost about where to go from here as he is. That feeling has stuck with me to this day and is a prime reason why Season 2 was so memorable.

 

Acting Performances: 7

dexter_212_1333_LL

You will see this comparison from me again as I compare some of the leading men to sports athletes because their circumstances happen to parallel each other. When I bring up the case of Michael C. Hall, I can’t help but think Charles Barkley (don’t worry, you’ll find out who Jordan is later on in the rankings). Criminally underrated, never got the full amount of respect he deserved, and mainly because of the timer period they performed in. Michael C. Hall garnered a 2008 Primetime Emmy nomination for Best Lead Actor for his portrayal of Dexter Morgan. And it was well deserved, he balanced the delicate line of humorous, ferocious and lovable into one persona. It was very well received, and Dexter isn’t Dexter without his amazing performance. But like Charles Barkley, sometimes his best wasn’t good enough to take the hardware home. But the recognition is deserved nonetheless.

Some others deserve mention too, Erik King (Sgt. James Doakes). King was great adversary worthy of Dexter and in my opinon, topped the Ice Truck Killer. Keith Carradine (Special Agent Lundy) gives a strong performance as the wily veteran agent and Deb’s love interest. Jaime Murray (Lila Tournay) as Dexter’s sexy and psychotic love interest had her moments too. To me, it was a season centered on Hall and King and they performed up to the billing.

 

Season Plot Arc: 9

DEXTER (Season 2)

Season 2 opens with Dexter going through a prolonged drought in his murdering ways, 39 days to be exact. 39 days since he had killed his brother the Ice Truck Killer, and now he has the always suspicious Sgt. Doakes on his ass every free second he has. Dexter finally gets to chance to quench his blood-thirst but finds himself unable to follow through on the murder. Perhaps he’s off his game or maybe it’s the fact that murdering his own brother took its toll on him. Whatever it is, Dexter now has to deal with these feelings, and it is uncharted territory for him. It doesn’t help when his underwater burial ground is found by divers and Dexter now has a fancy new nickname, “The Bay Harbor Butcher”.

As if that wasn’t enough, Dexter’s relationship with Rita is strained when her abusive and drug-riddled ex, Paul, gets out of prison. Dexter soon has to take care of the problem Paul is beginning to be. But in the process of doing so, Rita calls him out on setting up Paul and labels him a fellow drug user who must seek treatment. Better to be labeled that than have his real mask revealed. But in the process of his NA meetings, he meets his soon to be sponsor/partner-in-crime, Lila. Yeah, Rita isn’t too excited either when she sees her.

All-the-while, Miami Metro has called in the F.B.I. criminal specialist Frank Lundy, his expertise, catching serial killers. Now Dexter must dodged not only the suspicions of Doakes but Lundy as well. The former has only increased his witch-hunt on Dexter, looking into his past, financials and leaving no rock upturned. Dexter begins to drop the nice guy act and lures Doakes into a physical altercation at the station which results in getting Doakes off his back….. for now.

The real truth behind Dexter’s mother begins to surface as he finds out Harry was seeing his mother and that involvement led to her gruesome death. His search for the lone surviving member of her murder begins. He eventually finds him, but Lyla talks him out of it. His victim comes back to settle the score with Dexter but also fails. It isn’t until Dexter nabs him at the cabin and disposes his body that things calm down, well until Doakes catches him in the act.

Dexter’s moral struggle of never killing an innocent man has him in a bind. He’s not sure what to do. The inner contemplation of deciding what to do with Doakes is pretty fascinating to behold. What type of life that he will continue to lead is directly affected by the Doakes decision. He talks himself in and out of killing Doakes multiple times. Then he decides to turn himself in, courtesy of the eleventh hour pleading from Doakes. But then he remembers Harry’s #1 rule, don’t get caught. He ultimately decides to frame him, and his job is nearly complete, until Lundy’s task force target Doakes too and their intel has led them straight to Jimenez’s cabin. Dexter looks to be SOL, until Lila stumbles upon the cabin.

 

Cliffhanger/Finale: 7

The real drama was the three episodes that preceded the finale but you can’t knock it for not wanting to start the finale with a bang.

Thinking he just got his saving grace, Doakes implores Lila to let him out. And in typical crazy girl fashion, she does the exact opposite. She turns herself completely over to Dexter (even after he told her to back off) and decides to murder Doakes for him. A little turning of the gas here, some fire there and BOOM! Doakes goes up in a blaze of glory. Wraps up pretty nicely for Dexter right. Well that is until Lila decides to take Rita’s kids hostage and trap both them and Dexter in a fiery apartment. All three escape but Lila has definitely signed her own death warrant. Dexter tracks her to France and settles the score once and for all.

No cliffhanger, and nothing really sets up the story for Season 3. But that Doakes death/frame job success really scored points for me. All in all, solid way to finish up the season.

Defining Moment:

You know the moment, I’ve referenced it all throughout this post. Start at the 1:40 mark all the way through 2:52.

 

-MikeV87

BTL Top 5 Friday: The Best Sports Movie Moments

Maybe they’re too cliché, maybe it would never happen in real life but you know what, who cares. Sports movies are there to make sure the good guys win, even if they don’t. Often they transcend the sport itself and become life lessons of what really matters. Time and again the best moments are there to give us that satisfying conclusion that we always wanted in the real world. Without out further ado, BTL’s Top 5 Sports Movie Moments:

Honorable Mention: Daniel Russo wins the All-Valley Karate Tournament

  • Usually don’t do honorable mentions but this and Hoosiers was too close to call.
  • Champions the underdog role that many sports movies on this list do.
  • Daniel’s determination to gut out a debilitating knee injury scores major points with me.
  • The final point scored by Russo in his “Crane” stance is sports movie legend.

5. Jimmy Chitwood sinks the game winning basket in Hoosiers

  • The ultimate backyard fantasy played out on the big screen.
  • Just enough cliché in the final moments (although that trap pass was pretty bad haha).
  • Jimmy hits the game winning shot and the little guy gets their day as everybody storms the court in pandemonium.

4. Team USA defeats the Russians in Miracle

  • One of the few on this list that was an actual historical moment.
  • The real Al Michaels call voice-over during the last minute really hit home.
  • The barely contained anticipation of the US team vs the maniacal desperation of the Soviets was nail-biting.
  • The final historic call still gives me the chills.
  • Herb Brooks emotional reaction in the tunnel is heartfelt.

3. Tony D’Amato’s pre-game speech

  • The title holder for “Best Sports Movie Speech Ever”.
  • Only Al Pacino could’ve pulled this off, his penchant for screaming and still owning the scene worked beautifully here.
  • I find it perfect that two NFL legends (Jim Brown and Lawrence Taylor) are taking in this speech.
  • The speech transcends the game itself with its relation to life and the six inches in front of your face.
  • If you’re not motivated by that, you’re not human

2. Rudy gets carried off the field in his last game

  • This movie and more specifically this scene made me a Notre Dame fan.
  • The musical score that backdrops this is perfect. It has been used in many other cinematic features.
  • The very moment Rudy gets carried off the field nearly open the floodgates every time with me.
  • Throw in the historical aspect of this moment and that it has never happened at Notre Dame since just makes this all the more special.

1. Rocky goes the distance with Apollo Creed

  • In the ultimate metaphor for life and the quintessential sports movie underdog theme, the end of Rocky gets my top nod, and it wasn’t that close.
  • As I’ve said earlier, most of these transcend the sport itself. Rocky states before the fight that he knows he can’t beat Apollo, but he just wants “to go the distance” with Creed. No one has ever done that before. Who else in life has followed through on something when their prospects looked bleak at best?
  • I decided to go with the entire fight scene here because it really does build the apex of the moment perfectly.
  • As soon as the “Go the Distance” score begins (4:04), we see the persistent perseverance of Rocky take over as he suffers the beating of a lifetime from Creed.
  • But he doesn’t give up, he throws his punches back. And now it’s not just Rocky fighting for his life but the champ as well.
  • Everything crescendos in the 14th Rd. as Apollo knocks down Rocky for the final time; Micky tells him to stay down, Adrian suffers along with him and yet he gets up….Apollo can’t believe it…
  • Rocky nearly knocks out Apollo in the 15th Rd. but he is saved by the bell. Neither want a rematch as they can barely stand.
  • As the musical score bellows and pandemonium ensues Rocky only wants one thing; not the score card decision, not the fact that he was just apart of the greatest exhibition of boxing stamina in the history of the ring…..
  • He wants to tell Adrian that he loves her. And in the end, that’s all that ever mattered.

-MikeV87

BTL Top 5 Friday: Best DBZ Screams

So I decided to start a new Friday theme post called BTL Top 5 Friday. This will not be a long form post of my opinion that you may be use to with The Wine Cellar Team and The Top 20 Television Seasons. The goal here is to be concise and to the point. I’ll put a brief description of the topic each Friday followed by a ranking, YouTube clips, pictures etc.

The first topic: The Best Dragon Ball Z Screams.

So why DBZ screams? Well for one it is a little random but I’m cool with that. And two, DBZ has been part of popular culture for over 25 years.

I’m not doing moments here, on this list we are looking for the best screams. I went with this because they often happen at a dramatic moment and single-handily enhance any scene.

Enough with the talk, on with the list.

#5- Goku’s Kamehameha vs Vegeta Galick Gun (Ocean Dub version )

  • Really the first epic battle of DBZ
  • Goku and Vegeta duel Ki blast for nearly 2 minutes
  • The first landmark moment of DBZ

#4- Goku goes Super Saiyan 3 vs Fat Buu

  • The first time we ever saw what Super Sayian 3 looked like
  • Extended screaming for like 5 minutes
  • You really felt the toll it took on Goku to pull this off

#3- Piccolo sacrifices himself for Gohan (Ocean Dub version)

  • Viewing the Ocean Dub version is important. The other versions suck.
  • An absolute heartbreaking moment to watch
  • Piccolo redeems himself

#2- Gohan defeats Cell with a one-handed Kamehameha

  • The entire Ki blast battle lasts nearly a whole episode
  • Vegeta blast builds the moment perfectly
  • Probably the single best shot in DBZ right after the scream, Gohan walking with one hand as he finishes off Cell
  • Very few screams are as good as 11 year old SSJ2 Gohan with the fate of the world on the line

#1- Gohan turns Super Saiyan 2 vs Cell

  • #2 use to be my hands down favorite. But as I got older I appreciate this one more.
  • It is not the first SSJ2 scream that is the best (though that one is an all-time great in its own right). But the second one when they start the next episode (from the 2:25 minute mark on) and he’s not quite SSJ2 yet.
  • Cell builds the scene perfectly as he tells Gohan to “let it all go”. You see the anger swell in his eyes.
  • The longevity of the scream gives me the chills every time
  • The astonishment of Perfect Cell saying “incredible” only builds the feat and moment
  • It is fitting that this is #1 because no one is more badass than SSJ2 Gohan during the Cell Saga.

The Top 20 Television Seasons – #12

As an aficionado of all things organized crime; history, movies, literary etc. It was considered a near travesty for those close to me that I had not yet watched The Sopranos despite being as well versed in television and the genre as anyone. My favorite movies are The Godfather and  The Godfather Part II. I eat up mob culture like a plate of spaghetti put in front of Tony Soprano. So what finally got me to fully invest in all 6 seasons in the fall of 2014? Two things. 1) Was that is was the last of the so called “Mount Rushmore of Television” (Breaking Bad, Mad Men, The Sopranos and The Wire) that I had yet to watch. Up until that point I had watched all the other shows and they were absolutely amazing. 2) It was the show that launched “The Third Golden Age of Television”. It re-wrote the book completely of what good television made you think and feel. If you want a deeper explanation of the 3rd golden age, check this piece I wrote back in September of 2015.

Before we dive in, here is the list so far:

The Top 20 Television Seasons – #20   The Top 20 Television Seasons – #19

The Top 20 Television Seasons – #18    The Top 20 Television Seasons – #17

The Top 20 Television Seasons – #16     The Top 20 Television Seasons – #15

The Top 20 Television Seasons – #14      The Top 20 Television Seasons – #13

#12 – The Sopranos Season 1 – Score: 30

Re-watchability: 7

sopranos01_6

What initially grabbed everyone who watched Season 1 of Sopranos was the mob culture. Long has the public been enamored with “la cosa nostra”, just look to the massive success on the big screen with  The Godfather, Goodfellas and Casino. But never before had a television show decided to tackle the daily life inside the mafia before. I was particularly fascinated in the minutia of Tony Soprano’s day. How he ran his family as a capo of the DeMio Crime Family. The balance that he struck between a father who saw his kids off at breakfast and the intimidating force he became when he needed to settle things for the family business. Tony was our first extended look at the male anti-hero. He was not totally bad person, as he drove his daughter Meadow to go scout colleges. As any father would enjoy that bonding experience as a rite of passage in their relationship. But he wasn’t inherently good either. College was such a landmark episode because it showcased the duality of Tony Soprano and the balancing act he kept up. On their way to Colby College, Tony ends up committing a murder of a former member turned F.B.I. informant that he had spotted at a rural gas station. And Meadow is none the wiser. She did however ask if he was in the mafia. Which was the first time Tony had to explain his real life work to his daughter who was now becoming her own woman and not his still naïve little girl. Was Tony a good man? Was he a bad man? Does it even matter because I’m still rooting for him either way. That type of viewer connection is what paved the way for the Walter White’s and Don Draper’s of the world that would soon follow. Tony was TV’s first true male anti-hero.

And we still haven’t touched on the prospect of a mafia man of power going to therapy sessions. Dr. Melfi is as central a character as any in this series because she is a part of Tony’s life that he has no control over. She asks the tough questions, she gets him to talk about his feelings. Tony may not like it or understand it but she is the one who truly reveals that under the mask of mafia capo, he is just a human being who struggles with his own demons on a daily basis and that struggle is normal, it is expected. The Sopranos give us so much to consume; the modern day mafia way of life, the hedonism of there lifestyle and the social expectations within their own groups of friends. And all it really is, is a mask that everybody is expected to keep up no matter how you really feel on the inside. All these things made us ask questions, serious questions about the TV show we were watching and that is a good thing. Just like Dr. Melfi invokes those serious emotions in Tony Soprano, this show did the same to its viewer.

Acting Performances: 9

sopranos01_22

The Sopranos won 4 Emmys in 1999. Those that were related to acting were Edie Falco (Carmela Soprano) for Best Lead Actress in a Drama Series and the Outstanding Casting for a Series by Georiganne Walken and Sheila Jaffe (casting executives). Although James Gandolfini (Tony Soprano) didn’t get an Emmy win in 1999, he later grabbed his first of three Emmys in 2000 for his immortal portrayal of Tony Soprano. I have already given enough credit to Tony; the job that Edi Falco did though, was nothing less than stellar. I already explained the duality that Tony had to keep up, Carmela experienced much of the same. A ardent catholic who whose devotion to her faith is only surpassed by her devotion to her family; always seemed to be caught in the middle of her duty as the wife of a mob boss and her morals as a catholic. Her fight beginning in season 1 is one many women behind the powerful man face, the battle of conscience. Her proformances were rewarded many times over by the academy for not just being Tony’s wife, but Carmela Soprano.

But it just wasn’t the lead Sopranos that should deserve mention. We get two recognized Goodfellas characters in the seasoned Lorraine Bracco (Dr. Melfi) and grown up Michael Imperioli (Christopher Moltisanti) as mainstays in Sopranos Season 1. In fact there were many transplants from Goodfellas to The Sopranos. We also got a plethora of mob characters that straddle the line of too cliché but also uniquely individual in Dominic Chianese (Junior Soprano),  Vincent Pastor (“Big Pussy”), Steven Van Zandt (Silvio Dante) and Tony Sirico as the comical Paulie “Walnuts”. All these characters rounded out a very full lineup of diverse and memorable Sopranos roles. Considering the sheer amount of talent in the cast, there are few television seasons that can match up. In fact, I’m not sure there is another season that can go toe to toe with the amount of quality acting across the board that Season 1 Sopranos gave us.

Season Plot Arc: 8

In my opinion, Season 1 was probably the best season plot arc from start to finish(although Season 5 came close). Sopranos started out with Tony experiencing panic attacks and in turn was prescribed therapy sessions, to which he was more than hesitant to begin with. This sort of thing simply wasn’t done, not by made men. He also had to deal with the turnover in leadership when the boss of the DeMio crime family, Jackie Aprile, dies. Both Tony and Junior (Tony’s much older uncle) fight for position of Boss. The tension didn’t start there though. Tony’s nephew, Christopher Moltisanti, had become embroiled in a feud with Junior and his crew over the death of Moltisanti’s friend Brendan. If that wasn’t enough, Tony has more than enough to deal with at home as he continues his difficult relationship with his mother, as she needs to be put in a nursing home, which she vehemently opposes. His daughter Meadow finally finds out the truth of his real occupation on there trip to visit colleges. And his son A.J. is beginning to act out. Tony chalks it up to normal teenage mischief but the school is concerned that it may a personality disorder which drives Tony up a wall.

Junior is eventually named acting boss of the family and his feud with Tony has come to a stand still, for now. But Livia (Tony’s mom) finds out that Tony has been seeing a therapist through her conversations with A.J. She confides in Junior about the news as he is the only one who seems to understand her. They are unnerved at the prospect of him talking to an “outsider”. This leads Junior to attempt to consolidate power within the family, which means only one thing, he plans to murder Tony Soprano. All with the blessing of Livia too. Tony meanwhile has slipped into a chronic depression as he starts to feel the affects of the Lithium pills Dr. Melfi has prescribed. Junior contracts two outsiders to do the hit on Tony. The initial attempt on Tony fails as Christopher decides to follow him for protection. He inadvertently stops the attempt accidentally. The hit men try again, only this time Tony sees it coming just in time. In what is probably the best single moment of Sopranos (see Defining Moment below), Tony manages to fight off both men and barely escape with his life as one assailant accidentally shoots the other as Tony dodges the gun shot. He fights off the last assailant as he twist the gun barrel away from himself as he is speeding away in his car. Momentarily invigorated by cheating death, Tony loses sight of the road and crashes into a parked car, ultimately injuring his leg.

Back at the hospital, FBI Agent Harris tries to convince Tony to turn state’s evidence and go into Federal Witness Protection Program. Carmela likes the idea but Tony refuses to entertain it. He chalks it up to a simple car jacking. All the while Tony’s crew suspect something afoul with Junior and his motives.

Finale/Cliffhanger: 6

No big twist, no massive cliffhanger. But shows this outstanding usually don’t need to rely on these common formalities for most TV shows. The finale really just wrapped up everything pretty nicely for everyone involved. Tony eventually is able to confirm what he suspected, both Junior and his mother were behind the assignation attempt by listening to the F.B.I. tapes of both them talking at the retirement home. Tony reveals to Dr. Melfi that she was right about his possible mothers involvement and suggests that she go away for awhile because her life is now in danger. I thought this finale had a chance to be great when Tony organizes the hit of Junior and some of his crew but that mostly falls apart through outside forces. While both Christopher and Paulie are able to whack Mikey Palmice (Junior’s right hand man) for Brendan’s murder, Junior and the rest of his crew end up being arrested by the F.B.I. for charges relating to a telephone calling-card and stock-fraud scams. Instead of death, Junior is offered a deal. He will let Tony be the real boss of the family in all but name, calling the shots behind Junior’s back as he sits jail. Tony even momentarily attempts to kill his mother but that falls through as he learns she suffered a stroke. As she is wheeled by, he tells her he knows what she did, he perceives her as smiling, he has to be restrained and proceeds to storm out.

Through all the turmoil of season 1, Sopranos season 1 ends with Tony and his family taking refuge in Nuovo Vesuvio (a friends restaurant) during a terrible thunderstorm. They dine with Silvio, Paulie and Christopher as Tony asks his family to appreciate the little moments that were good.

Defining Moment:

The hit on Tony Soprano: S1E12

2-isabella

 

-Mikev87

The Top 20 Television Seasons – #13

I am back after a little hiatus I took the last two weeks to prepare for my three fantasy baseball drafts. I know, you don’t care you who’s on my team so lets get back to my TV rankings now.

Coming in at #13 I have the smash FX hit Sons of Anarchy Season 4.

Couple things, this marks the first time a show has made this list with a season coming in at #3 or later. So far every season has made the cut in their first two years. And it shouldn’t surprise you because a show’s first couple years are often the backbone of what makes it a possibly great or transcendent show. But to have a seasons make it after the first two years show remarkable work on the part of show runners. The audience already knows what to expect, not a whole lot of tricks you can show them that they haven’t already seen. What makes these later seasons so memorable? Well they often lay the groundwork for a shows legacy, and that my friends it what makes some of these shows all time greats.

Here’s the list so far:

The Top 20 Television Seasons – #20

The Top 20 Television Seasons – #19

The Top 20 Television Seasons – #18

The Top 20 Television Seasons – #17

The Top 20 Television Seasons – #16

The Top 20 Television Seasons – #15

The Top 20 Television Seasons – #14

#13 – Sons of Anarchy Season 4 – Score: 29

Re-watchability: 8

I have always looked back on Season 3 of Sons as the last season everyone really liked each other. Season 4 began the slow unravel of buried secrets and later the club itself. Season 4 marked a lot of changes. The club was starting to transition in their leadership from Clay to Jax. Only one problem, as we saw in the promos and the first episode, Jax wants out. After the wild and draining campaign to get his son Abel back, plus a lengthy prison stint, SAMCRO’s budding king wanted a new future for himself and his new family. And that wasn’t going to happen with Clay making a deal in prison for the club to not only sell guns to the Galindo cartel, they also muled their drugs for them too. Even the club has standards but the money was too good for an aging Clay to pass up. Bring in a new law enforcement, the San Joaquin Sheriffs led by Eli Roosevelt (very underrated in his time with SOA) and the drama was set to go at any time.

It didn’t just go, it exploded. From the execution of the Russians in episode 1, the dangerous association to the cartel to, oh yeah, lets not forget this entire time they’ve been under the watchful eye of assistant US Attorney Lincoln Potter. He has everything, names, ranks, known associates etc. What he doesn’t have is the hard proof, he doesn’t have an in to the club, that is until Juice turns in the first part of season 4.

But what really made this can’t miss television is the secrets. The lies that Clay and Gemma buried along with Jax’s father John Teller. That Tara knows, that Piney suspected. And when will Jax eventually find the truth. Every week I tuned in to see what lie would be peeled further back. Have a knot in my stomach has Piney dug further and further into Clay, and knowing that the old man was digging his eventual grave at the same time. Wondering when Tara would just tell Jax the truth and then wait for the mother of all rage and anger to be released on Clay. A popular line said by my friends and I during the season 4 run was, “no way Clay isn’t dying next week”, “no way Juice makes it out alive”. Episode after episode, I was amazed at how they could double down on the drama and keep raising the stakes.

Acting Performances: 5

SOA has never been nominated for an acting Emmy. And that doesn’t bother creator Kurt Sutter because he doesn’t care. He knows the ratings speak for themselves. Having said that, in this category, I have to go with an average rating here. And anyone who watches SOA would agree that the acting isn’t the reason why they continue to tune in every Tuesday night. The drama however is and I think a few actors should deserve their due. Obviously first and for most Charlie Hunnam (Jax Teller),  being a badass biker outlaw doesn’t scream Emmy. Being a flawed man who everyday fights for legitimacy in his own club but also his life, that is great acting. I would say more but I have a clip that I absolutely love and always point to when discussing the depth of Jax Teller:

Another person that should get a quick due is Ron Pearlman (Clay Morrow). It is easy to be a good character and applauded, it is far more difficult to be a hated character and still do a masterful job of making me hate your guts. Katy Segal (Gemma Morrow) should also get a nod for constantly straddling that line of aggressor/survivor when it came to the truth of John Teller. And also Ryan Hurst (Opie Winston) for his eventual growth into the lion of SAMCRO. His moral center is what kept this club grounded but his sheer ferocity in the confrontation with Clay in Burnt and Purged Away is one of the defining dramatic cliffhangers the show has ever done.

Season Plot Arc: 9

untitled (3)

I don’t think there has ever been a season that built the drama episode to episode to a near fever pitch than Sons Season 4. One of my main recurring lines during this season was, “how the hell are they going to get out of this”. The fact that Tara had the letters, drama! Juice turned on the club and then killed a club member and covered it up, drama! Then Juice tried to hang himself, drama! I could go on and on but I think you get the point. Between the internal strife with the club about drugs, John Teller’s death, outside threats of other cartels and the feds following them every step of the way, it was like the club was fighting a 5-front war with no end in sight. Clay even tries to end the John Teller threat once and for all and orders a hit on Tara, which ultimately fails. But with so many secrets, eventually something comes out. Piney’s death led to Opie’s discovery, which led to Unser revealing that Clay was behind the deaths of the two most recent Winston’s. Which eventually led to Opie’s attempt on Clay’s life and one of the series best “oh shit” moments. At the heart of this all was the unavoidable path of Jax ascending to the throne. No one was more challenged and tested than Jax was in Season 4. Even though he didn’t want it, his destiny had other plans. He eventually found out the truth of Jon’s death, at least the truth as Gemma saw fit. He had every intention of killing Clay, and getting out of SAMCRO. But fate as it would have it, had different plans.

Finale/Cliffhanger: 7

1542c8be45a150d0805ff49748c80806

The ultimate “how the fuck are they going to get out of this” moment came at the very onset of the finale. With a whole season’s worth of intel on the Sons and the Galindo Cartel, the Feds were ready to raid the upcoming weapons exchange, till we see Romeo and Luis walk calmly up to the Federal officers with CIA badges!! Damnit Kurt Sutter, always saving the trump card for when you finally need it. So there would be no over bearing law enforcement threat hanging around in the finale like there was in Season 3. All that was left was club business and the cartel business. Jax layers meets with Galindo and they inform him that their relationship must continue, with Clay, as he is the only member the Irish trust to run their guns. Pull out of the cartel and Galindo will let the Feds crush SAMCRO on the RICO case. Jax has no choice but to agree to keep the deal going and let Clay live as well, but with stipulations. Clay will be stripped of his president patch and will be reduced to the status of an unseated member.

Jax also makes the decision to stay in the club, as he says to Tara, he can’t let his club die. Jax calls a church meeting at the clubhouse. While not as strong as it once was, SAMCRO is under a new regime. The prince that was promised has ascended to the throne. And in a fitting a song cover as their could be, Jax sits at the gavel, at the head of the table with Tara standing behind him as the scene fades to Gemma and John Teller many years back at the same position. Gemma looks on, the torch has been passed. The future of SAMCRO now lies in his hands.

Defining Moment:

House of the Rising Sun has always been a favorite of mine. And when heard the first two lines bellowed out in the deep voice of White Buffalo, I was 100% in. It still gives me the chills remembering it 4 years later. I categorize this a the turning point in the Sons saga, from the Clay Morrow days to the Jax Teller reign. While I don’t have a clip to show you, I’ll leave you with this:

-MikeV87

 

 

 

The Top 20 Television Seasons – #14

Sometimes there comes along a season that grabs a certain sect of the TV universe in a vice grip. It strikes a chord with the audience so deep that it alone stands apart from all other renditions or imitations. True Detective Season 1 did just that. It made waves early on with the casting of A-list lead Hollywood actors, Woody Harrleson (Detective Marty Hart) and Matthew McConaughey (Dectective Rust Cohle). The latter was smack dab in the middle of his “McConaissance”, coming off the mega-hits, Dallas Buyers Club (which he won the Oscar for) and The Wolf of Wall Street, and this was just before Interstellar hit. If there was any question about the validity of television as compared to its big screen counterpart, both Harrleson and McConaughey solidified the mediums’ standing as legitimate place for Hollywood’s elite.

Here’s the list so far:

#20 – The O.C Season 1

#19 – Nip/Tuck Season 2

#18 – Homeland Season 2

#17 – Mr. Robot Season 1

#16 – The Walking Dead Season 1

#15 – Game of Thrones Season 1

#14 – True Detective Season 1 – Score: 28

Rewatchability: 7

I remember watching this the first time and being immediately grabbed by the location and environment of Louisiana. It fit with the bleak and pessimistic Rust Cohle. There was a certain mysticism that held my attention in those first 4 to 5 episodes and the landscape was part of the reason why. The savagery and the symbolism of their first case, as much as it was tough to stomach initially, was captivating  me. Was there really this wealthy elite who were a devil-worshipping cult pulling all the strings in the desolate south and sadistic sacrificial murder was their calling card? It’s like those Illuminati videos that you sometimes get sucked into watching, you think to yourself “total bullshit” but at the same time, “why can’t I look away”? After each episode the curtain is pulled back a little further, and the pieces of “The Yellow King” and “Carcosa” puzzle is slowly put together. That is what made it for me. The clues that you try to look for and make sense of a much larger purpose at hand. When you catch someone else up, you wonder why they focus on a billboard. What does the symbolism mean? I see the spiral, does that correlate to life is a flat circle? Why the antlers? Is Rust really this fucked up……wait a minute, perhaps he’s brilliant. Good lord those are the greatest tits I have ever seen! Sorry, but I had too, any guy had the same thoughts about Alexandra Daddario.

Season 1, particularly the first 5 episodes, had their share of landmark moments. I’ll save the best one for later, but did anyone else let out a WTF when you saw Reggie Ledoux walking in the sticks with just underwear, a gas mask and a freaking machete?! That image has been forever seared in my mind as Cohle talks about “the monster at the end of the dream”. Throw in the shootout that followed in episode 5 as you saw the duality of both 1995 and 2012 versions go down was pretty cool to take in. And anytime we can get McConaughey to go on a prolonged monologue about the grand spectrum of how we process time and life, well I’m completely all in.

 

Acting Performances: 9

1405071137_safe_image

When you sign two esteemed actors like Harrelson and McConaughey, you know what you’re getting. And given that much of the dialogue is centered around those two, it should be no surprise that this category pulled a 9. McConaughey gives a virtuoso performance as the philosophical but yet mysterious and complicated Rust Cohle. Not too far a deviation from the roles he did for all his “McConaissance” movies. He certainly has found a groove in that “out-there” style of performance. It nearly nabbed him the 2014 Emmy, but it was Cranston’s last dance with the pantheon show Breaking Bad.

As for Woody Harrelson, he was the perfect counterpart to his partners doom and gloom. I particularly found amusing their attempt at on the job male bonding. Harrelson dead pan looks at the sheer ludicrousness of his partners view on humanity and their back and forth jabs at each other brought a welcomed light to such a dark show. He was the perfect balance to McConaughey. But it wasn’t just these two, I found every villain or low-life scum in the detective’s way to be worth the squeeze; Dewall, Reggie Ledoux, Charlie Lange and the biker drug-addict Ginger. And I cannot forget to mention the two investigating officers, as Michael Potts (Det. Gilbough) and Tory Kittles (Det. Papania) were solid as well (you’ll see their other shows on this list as well).

Defining Moment: “The Tracking Shot”

This for me takes the cake. By the end of this scene, I was clutching the couch with white knuckles and absolutely on edge with tense feeling I couldn’t quite shake. What the hell just happened?! Only a minute later as I began to come down  was I told that this scene was a single tracking shot that lasted 6 minutes!! No edits, no cuts. Just 6 minutes of pure perfection. It is considered one of the greatest tracking shots ever done.

 

Season Plot Arc: 6

I’ve sang some pretty high praises of Season 1. But if I had to point out a flaw, it’d have to be how the story seemed to stall in the final episodes before the finale. And I get it, not every show can continue to build the tension and anticipation episode after episode. True Detective started out a little slow but that was necessary for the plot, then it ramped of with the pursuit of Ledoux and the first rumblings of “The Yellow King”. In my opinion the story really peaked after episodes 4 and 5. And it makes sense, the 1995 storyline was always a little bit more interesting. Almost an origins story on how present day Rust and Marty came to be. Like what exactly led to Cohle looking like this in 2012? I myself felt a waning interest when the show veered towards the “Rust did it” arc. I thought it was a cop out, it was too easy for us to believe that storyline and yet the show did it anyways. It also delved into the demise of Marty Hart as well. Not unwatchable but also not like both the detectives going undercover in a highly dangerous drug mulling biker gang. I will give them credit for keeping the pacing going with the Yellow King storyline and Carcosa. In those weeks leading up to the finale, every possible scenario was thrown out on who was the man behind the curtain and his monster who did his bidding.

Finale/Cliffhanger: 6

true-detective-carcosa-joshua-walsh-8

There are times when the anticipation for a certain event or closure of a show are at a fever pitch. Breaking Bad experienced this when they concluded their series run. The reveal of “The Carver” in Nip/Tuck’s Season 3 finale was up there as well. Unfortunately, the reality almost never matches the hype. This was the case for the True Detective finale. The whole series we were pulled by this carrot of the Yellow King of Carcosa. We finally knew who the monster at the end of the tunnel was as Errol Childress was revealed at the end of episode 7 to be the man with the horrible scars. Their pursuit of the Childress into the hellish labyrinth that was Carcosa definitely lived up to its billing visually. Even the final showdown between good and evil in that open tower was pretty amazing to take in. This inherently evil monster that seemed to have super human strength only added the lore that was built up around him. But when good prevailed and Marty and Rust dramatically defeated the monster. I was left feeling a little let down. Who was the Yellow King? Where was this cult of wealthy devil worshipers? The finale ends with both Rust and Marty improbably surviving and recovering at Lafayette General. Marty helps Rust outside so he can look at the stars. Rust goes on another monologue about life and what he saw of the after-life. It hits him pretty hard. And he even leaves with some optimism, “if you ask me, the light is winning”.

But to not even touch the subject of who the true Yellow King was, even after leaving clue after clue was disappointing to say the least. But all in all, it was a good finale, not epic but at the end of the day I felt that I finished something that was special. And that means something more to me, the experience, that is what will stay with me forever.

-MikeV87

 

 

 

_