Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Year in TV: A 2013 full of awe, and shocks

This image released by AMC shows Bryan Cranston as Walter White, left, and Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman in a scene from "Breaking Bad."  (AP Photo/AMC, Frank Ockenfels )
This image released by AMC shows Bryan Cranston as Walter White, left, and Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman in a scene from "Breaking Bad." (AP Photo/AMC, Frank Ockenfels )
This image released by AMC shows Bryan Cranston as Walter White, left, and Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman in a scene from "Breaking Bad."  (AP Photo/AMC, Frank Ockenfels ) Gallery: The Year in TV: A 2013 full of awe, and shocks

Which do you want first - the shock or the awe? Because TV had plenty of both in 2013.

But first we must post the compulsory "Spoiler Alert" banner, because digital advances have created a Doctor Who-like universe in which the laws of time no longer apply.

In a remarkable display of forbearance, we all now agree to act as if nothing has happened on TV until the last person on the planet has streamed it. No viewer left behind!

So though 2013 is over, I still can't come right out and talk about its pivotal moments, because some of you may have DVR'ed the entire year, intending to binge-watch it in 2015.

Future viewers, please bookmark this page for subsequent perusal and stop reading now. Because we are moving into retrospective mode, beginning with the ways the medium astounded us in 2013.

Reality TV continued to be a wellspring of toxic inventiveness. We thought the genre had peaked in March with Splash, the ABC show in which a crazily mixed bag of former celebrities (the girl from Charles in Charge! Chelsea Handler's Lilliputian sidekick! Louie Anderson!) risked what life and limb remained to hurl themselves off a towering diving board. It was Celebrity Crash Test Dummies in wetsuits.

But the genre had much more in store for Kardashian Nation. 2013 also brought us What Would Ryan Lochte Do?, which chronicled the oxygen-deprived existence of the chiseled Olympian. The E! series answered the riddle posed by its title. Turned out what Ryan mostly would do is silently purse his lips like a guppy, while empty thought balloons floated above his head.

Just this weekend, TLC trumped them all with Sex Sent Me to the ER, which was exactly what it sounded like: a compelling argument for forced sterilization.

Elsewhere on the entertainment front, opalescent country singer Carrie Underwood made an audacious acting debut, starring in a live reproduction of Rodgers and Hammerstein's 1959 musical The Sound of Music on NBC.

Here's the amazing part: Nearly 22 million people (factoring in DVR usage, of course) watched Carrie climb every mountain.

Congratulations, America. You have virtually guaranteed that next year we will be seeing Jack McBrayer in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Ryan Lochte in Tarzan: The Musical.

Big props, too, to Breaking Bad's sterling stretch run. Was the Walter White saga a cautionary tale or a celebration of gangstaism? Either way, the gripping final episodes cemented the show's place as the Suburban Scarface.

On a different playing field, Auburn's journey to the Bowl Championship next week has been equally thrilling. The team pulled out not one but two staggering last-minute upsets in November to earn a shot at the national title.

We can also thank college football for this final 2013 highlight: a spectacularly surreal summit in the announcers' booth at halftime of the Notre Dame-Michigan game. It involved Eminem, the nation's peroxide poet laureate, and 74-year-old sportscaster and arbiter of hip, Brent Musburger.

Em was there to promote his new single, but an awkward interview abruptly transformed into a passionate mutual admiration society. "You are a legend, my friend," the rapper insisted. "You, my friend, are the legend," countered Brent. Back and forth they volleyed, trying to top each other's accolades, as the game went on beneath them, unremarked. Well matched, gentlemen.

The TV year also delivered a large contingent of shocks. Rarely have scripted deaths registered so high on the Richter scale.

You could practically hear America collectively gasp on the night in June when the heart of the beloved Stark clan was stilled in one foul swoop in "The Rains of Castamere" episode of HBO's Game of Thrones.

Fans of Downton Abbey suffered a sudden loss of similar magnitude when young Master Crawley went directly from celebrating the birth of his heir to the morgue. And we came so close to actually seeing Lady Mary smile.

Ironically, it was a newsman who most forcefully pulled the rug from beneath our feet, when CNN's John King reported authoritatively - not to mention prematurely and inaccurately - that an arrest had been made in the Boston bombing case in April.

Alec Baldwin saw his MSNBC talk show collapse after only a handful of episodes. We never thought the 30 Rock star would make a good chat host - too condescending - but we were pretty sure he'd have a longer run than Charles Grodin.

The other shock from the news world came when Brian Williams announced he would be taking a leave of absence from NBC Nightly News to undergo knee-replacement surgery. We had no idea anchors' bodies extended below the desk.

One other development really took us by complete surprise: Patrick Jane actually caught his nemesis Red John on The Mentalist. Too bad the oft-delayed resolution came two seasons too late for any of us to care anymore.

The good news, for those of you who have been DVRing the series: The big showdown on The Mentalist won't seem any staler in 2015.

215-854-4875 @daveondemand_tv

Inquirer TV Critic
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