The 2009-2010 Caruso Awards: Miscellaneous Gubbins of the Year

It never ends! This is the bad thing about not blogging regularly: I have a year’s worth of observations stuck in my brain, and only by barfing them out here can I get some rest. Seriously, I haven’t slept in about eleven months. I just sit in the spare room going, “Jon Hamm: very handsome. Zachary Quinto: seen enough of him for another year”. Hopefully our pain will end soon and I can either never blog again or at least change the subject. Maybe I’ll just start blogging about books I never normally do that.

Best Couple of the Year (According to me and not Daisyhellcakes): Raylan Givens and Ava Crowder – Justified

Before we get into a more technical appraisal of what makes Raylan (Timothy Olyphant) and Ava (Joelle Carter) the most interesting couple of the year, we have to accept that two very good looking and sexy people with immediate and startling chemistry are already well on their way to becoming fan favourites. One of the key moments of the pilot for FX’s Justified came when our hero — hunting his former colleague and now nemesis Boyd Crowder — turns up on the doorstep of his high-school sweetheart Ava. It’s a scene that Scott Tobias describes well in his review of the episode:

I loved the chemistry between Raylan and Ava, Boyd’s sister-in-law, played by an absurdly sexy Joelle Carter. Ava is on the hook for murdering her abusive husband, which obviously puts her in danger with Boyd and company, but she and Raylan know each other, too. Their greeting on her front porch is something else, like an attraction so electric that they lose any sense of social or professional politesse.

Much of the first season concerns them fighting their obvious desires in a pretty half-hearted manner considering how soon in the season they hop into the sack, which naturally puts Raylan’s job in jeopardy. What’s most amusing about that is that he doesn’t really seem to care: he’s so laidback and confident he just figures it will resolve itself without his intervention. Of course, he is eventually temporarily suspended, and the relationship falters not long after that, but only because Ava won’t listen to Raylan’s good advice about getting out of town to avoid the wrath of the Crowders. Maybe that’s the key to the relationship: both of them are smart but bull-headed, and so the tension in the will-they-won’t-they plot — which often comes across as contrived — is an extension of a very believable dynamic. They’re not kept apart by social convention or contrivance or even Raylan’s job (because for the most part he doesn’t seem to think he needs to cut off his relationship with Ava): they’re always on the brink of splitting up because they won’t back down from their core beliefs.

Nevertheless, as great as this couple is, there is another romantic sub-plot for Raylan to contend with. His ex-wife Winona (Natalie Zea, completely forgiven for her depressing stint in Dirty Sexy Money after her appearances in Hung and Justified) is also on the scene, and though she is now married and has had enough of Raylan’s dark side for one lifetime, he obviously still loves her and has a chemistry just as potent as with Ava. Because basically Timothy Olyphant is very good at this: his chemistry with Molly Parker on Deadwood was similarly smoking. What the hell is going on with him? He is like a walking sexual reactor, giving off Orgone radiation and turning all of his co-stars into glowing, sex-irradiated hottness sponges.

Anyway, the relationship with Winona runs through more traditional routes — she’s married, he’s pissed her off, he’s conflicted because of his feelings for Ava — but that doesn’t stop them getting together eventually. We lucky viewers get to see our hero find a partner and then lose her, as well as pine for a lost love and then slowly rekindle it. How lucky we are to have a show with two compelling romantic sub-plots: most shows can’t manage one. Of course, there’s always a possibility that you will root for one relationship over the other, and that’s what happened at SoC HQ. I’m a member of Team Ava, and Daisyhellcakes is resolutely on the side of Team Winona. I think we can both agree that this is a far more interesting choice than Team Edward and Team Jacob, especially as there is a good case for either Ava or Winona, whereas if you’re Team Edward you’re mad, as Jacob is at least not a murderous corpse with a bouffant. Ava and Winona are well-realised characters, well-played by two talented actresses, and when they are onscreen with Raylan your TV will start to ignite and then fire outwards like some Martian heat-ray. I’ll stick with them, thanks very much. (ETA: Hello Olyphant fans on LJ! Shades of Caruso is proud to be Team Raylan first and foremost, because he’s one charming son of a bitch.)

Most Tragic Couple of the Year: Dale Tomasson and Alby Grant – Big Love

When I nominate this relationship as being the saddest of the year, I have to note that it’s a depressing cliche to see two gay men come together, be miserable because they know they can’t be together, and then have one of them take their own life because they can’t take the shame of it. It’s nothing new, and it reinforces cultural belief that a gay relationship must inevitably come with such crippling emotional pain that it’s not even worth doing. That’s the bleakest possible read of the relationship. What makes this a coupling that is worthy of praise is the lovely and disarming work by Matt Ross (never better than here) and Benjamin Koldyke, who play the two men as innocents struggling to make sense of their feelings while weighed down with fear. It’s a new note for Ross to play, and he really goes for it: his love for Dale is simultaneously sweet, creepy, and horribly depressing. Koldyke is ostensibly the elder here, and should be more responsible, but he turns into an adolescent whenever Alby is near. It’s heartbreaking to watch.

At least two shows this year managed to show gay relationships that were normal: a bit of an event, really. Modern Family had Cameron and Mitchell, who were a cuddly gay couple with an adopted daughter, and represented one of the few things I liked about that abominable show, though as this excellent article points out (thanks to @werdsmiffery for the link), there are big problems with the way they are portrayed in the most non-threatening manner possible. Even more notable was Caprica‘s Sam Adama, who has a husband (yes, wingnuts, a TV show featuring a planet that has LEGAL GAY MARRIAGE fuck you, and if that hurts your ickle feelings my heart soars to hear it). We don’t see him much, but then that’s the beauty of it. Sam is a gay man married to another and they do fine and it’s no big deal. Except it obviously is a big deal, otherwise I wouldn’t mention it, but I have to say, after months of hearing hate-filled douchebags pretending that their opposition to gay marriage is a constitutional issue (when it’s actually revulsion and anyone smarter than a fungus knows that it’s revulsion), just seeing an acceptance of gay marriage on a TV show made me absurdly happy. Some more screentime for Sam’s husband would be nice (mentioning him and then not showing him except for a quick glimpse seems like a dodge just as bad as Cameron and Mitchell showing so little affection), but even this small detail on the show not only makes the world of Caprica more interesting, it also makes the TV landscape a little less homogenous, a little more inviting.

Best Reality TV Moment: So You Think You Can Dance – Alex and Twitch

Reality TV doesn’t really do it for me. Sure, I adore Top Chef — surely the highwater mark for reality TV: talented people doing amazing things under extreme pressure with personal bullshit kept to the minimum for the most part — and I still like America’s Next Top Model for the most part, usually whenever the models are obviously following orders to worship Empress Tyra, but the shows that take place on a stage leave me cold. I have no time for X Factor or Britain’s Got Talent or Strictly Come Dancing, even though I appreciate those shows do a great job of uniting huge audiences together in a shared experience, and at their best can give a lay audience an insight into the techniques of the participants and the experts brought in to advise them. Nevertheless, when this happened, I stopped what I was doing and watched in dumbstruck awe.

Yes, it’s not embeddable. Stupid Fox: if ever there was an advert for their show, that is it. A better-looking version of the dance is here, but context is all. As you may have noticed, Alex is a ballet dancer (a very good ballet dancer too) who is out of his depth in this situation. He has no experience of hip-hop dancing, and is paired with a former contestant who excels at it. It’s also a two-man dance, something that usually brings out Nigel’s dodgiest and most defensive comments. That he reacts the way he does in that clip (i.e. not screaming that he’s a MANLY MAN and he loves BOOBS and not COCK) says something about the artistry of the choreography and the execution. Sadly, not long after this Alex left the competition, having injured himself during rehearsals. He’s still recovering, but hopefully will be back dancing soon. Nevertheless, he did leave us this, and Shades of Caruso salutes him and wishes him well.

Best Live TV Moment of the Year: The opening sketch of the 2010 Emmy Awards

Okay, so only the last bit is live, but it’s still a potent moment, especially the quick glimpse of the gang rushing to their marks backstage, with Jorge Garcia looking simultaneously determined and scared. Perhaps the reason this made me so happy was that it came towards the end of a long year of TV watching, and felt like the capper on the whole damn exercise. It made me slightly like Glee a bit more, gave me a thrill to see Hurley giving it all he’s got, namechecked Lost and Community — two shows I love that didn’t get anything during the ceremony — and featured Jon Hamm backing it up in front of Betty White: when Twitter memes collide. Most surprising of all, it constituted yet another girder in the bridge being built between my Jimmy Fallon apathy and the increasingly possible Jimmy Fallon fandom. If he’s gonna rock the Springsteen like that, I can’t help but forgive him for Taxi. (But oh, the forgiveness burns as it leaves my fingers.)

Best Title Sequence: Human Target

It’s a perfect combination of rousing music — courtesy of Battlestar Galactica hero Bear McCreary — and fascinating imagery, referencing Christopher Chance’s comic book history without going the boring route of having a bunch of panels with speech balloons: the usual tedious choice. The show is uneven, but this stirring opener makes it look like the most confident action show around.

Worst Use of Music: The Vampire Diaries – Bloodlines

Gina Torres shows up in the CW’s hit Twi-lite teen drama, mostly to remind the audience they could be rewatching a Whedon show instead, but also to get murdered by Damon. She’s betrayed him, and so he’s inevitably going to rip out her heart. It’s not played sad: it’s brutal, and obviously meant to be a reminder that Damon might seem charming from time to time, but he’s actually mad evil (it’s not subtle character shading, but it is welcome considering how everyone else is sleepwalking through the show). The tune we hear playing over this horrific moment? The chorus from this fluffy nonsense…

A 100% tonal mismatch. It’s almost impressive. Nevertheless it begs the question: does anyone on the show involved with the music licensing even pay attention to the show?

Best Use Of Guest Stars: 30 Rock

The wide array of celebrities appearing on 30 Rock might be used as a litmus test regarding your tolerance for guest stars: it’s either a crutch, or a good “get” (sorry, I won’t do that again). It’s a testament to the show’s popularity in the creative community that they can attract the people they do: having Elizabeth Banks and Julianne Moore play recurring characters on your show is pretty impressive no matter how you look at it. Still, if they were just playing versions of themselves it would pall immediately, but 30 Rock has given them terrific characters to work with. In seasons past the sight of Al Gore racing off to save a whale, or Handsome Jon Hamm living in his bubble, or Elaine Stritch being the archetypal disapproving mother, has almost erased their other work from our memory: while watching the pilot of Boardwalk Empire we kept expecting Steve Buscemi to reach into his pocket to pull out a can.

The fourth season featured some of the show’s best guest appearances to date, with Banks and Moore both terrific as Avery Jessup and Nancy Donovan splitting Jack Donaghy’s attention, and a lovely appearance by a very goofy Matt Damon in the season finale (and the opener for season five, as well as the live episode broadcast this week), but it was Michael Sheen’s bravura performance as weedy Wesley Snipes that stole our hearts. As great as he is in pretty much everything he’s in (including the second Twilight movie, a feat we thought impossible), from now on Sheens’s appearance in a movie — no matter how dramatic — will be greeted by us with cries of, “Why is your face like that?” or “I don’t want to go back to England. I can’t suffer through the London Olympics — we’re not prepared, Liz. Did you see the Beijing Opening Ceremonies? We don’t have control over our people like that!” We want him on the show every week: that’s how you do guest appearances.

Worst Use Of Guest Stars: Modern Family

And this is how you don’t do them. To be honest, I’d stopped the show before the guest stars started arriving en masse, but I did sadly see them transform Elizabeth Banks into a cartoonish party-hard maniac who literally wishes Cameron and Mitchell would kill their adopted child so they could go drinking more often (before, of course, falling for the little darling in the mawkish final scene). Words fail me on that one, and then start working again when considering the crushingly unfunny appearance of Edward “Vaudeville” Norton as a member of Spandau Ballet, now so destitute he is reduced to performing in the homes of fans for a few dollars. His Cockney accent is the worst thing I’ve heard all year, and makes Julianne Moore — with her risible Boston accent — sound like Ben Affleck. Fucking show: from Hell’s heart, I stab at thee!

New Favourite Actor: Joseph Fiennes – FlashForward

Joe F! I don’t think I shall ever see an actor hammier than thee. FlashForward was not a great show, and for most of its running time it wasn’t even diverting. Did anything interesting actually happen between the pilot and the insane gun-crazy finale? However, there was one thing that kept me glued to the screen: the towering display of eccentric enthusiasm from Joseph “Rather Handsome” Fiennes, who leapfrogged his brother to become my favourite Fiennes just through the use of one eyebrow. Photos barely do that eyebrow justice: you have to see it slowly creep up while his almost lipless (and yet still handsome) mouth gently parts in horror (or surprise, or joy, or intensity, or whatever) to get the Full Fiennes. No one on TV has ever given me such incidental joy since the Great Caruso first showed up as immobile scientist and deadshot Horatio Caine. As I’ve said before, it sounds like I’m just being mean, but I have such enormous affection for Fiennes and all of his metric tonnes of acting in this role that I wanted the show to continue simply because I knew I would miss him so much. And I do! His berserk energy was one of the highlights of the season (in the picture above he is throwing a phone across the room with all of his force. Yes! A backhanded throw! Where does he come up with these ideas?), and without it TV seems to be a paler place. Still, he is now working on Camelot, a Starz production seeking to pick up some of that Spartacus buzz. What makes that show even more promising? The showrunner is SoC nemesis Chris “Torchwood” Chibnall. There is a chance Camelot will make me spontaneously combust with mean-tinted joy. Let’s just hope any helmet he wears in the show has a gap so we can see his eyebrow. Speaking of which…

New Favourite Eyebrows: Ruth Wilson – Luther / The Prisoner

Her performances in Luther and The Prisoner are amiably mad, especially in the former, where she seems to be trying to channel every femme fatale in cinema history. It’s a delirious experience watching her flirt and pout while talking about murder in gallumphing, unsubtle dialogue that would sound impossibly stupid coming from any other actress. I doff my cap to her: she’s one of the things that made me like Luther even when I should have been despairing. She gets a bum deal in The Prisoner: Number 6 just rushes through her life, messing with her equilibrium, being so “sexy” (???) that she falls in love with him (or is that the special love-potion invented by Number 2?), and is then turned into a comatose speculative-universe-generating megabrain in the half-intriguing, half-nonsensical finale. But no matter what she is doing, and no matter how well she is doing it, it’s the eyebrows that drew me in. They are the Alpha and Omega of eye-mantelpieces, and I can’t wait to see what they appear in next.

Are these awards over? Can they be over? There’s still so much I had planned to say. ::sobs::

The 2009-2010 Caruso Awards: The Worst Episodes of the Year (10-1)

The bottom ten episodes of the year have a few things in common, usually revolving around some pretty unevolved views on women or by treating IRL issues as some kind of ghoulish entertainment. Guess I’m becoming even more of a prude as I get older, but I really cannot stand stories about rapists or serial killers, with the exception of Hannibal Lecter, who is very refined and loves opera: the Frasier Crane of cannibals, you might say. In recent years TV has been great at exploring the human condition to a greater degree than it has ever tried to before, but even with shows like Dexter — which attempt to make darkly humorous light from an unpleasant subject — it’s too damn hard to create drama from the subject without crossing lines.

Perhaps this is why I prefer shows like The Shield or Breaking Bad: we see people who might have been good end up making the wrong decisions. Though Dexter fans will argue that the show does a good job of showing a bad man try to do good, the characterisation doesn’t really move on from that initial point. Can a serial killer be a good person, or will his urges win out? After four seasons you’d think they’d find something new to say, or give us at least some insight, but instead we just get that persistent expository voiceover. Oh man, just thinking about that show is depressing me…

The other theme here is the bad state of UK drama, as evidenced by the sad presence of so many UK shows on this list. Interesting chats on Twitter over the past few months have illuminated the current state of UK drama, that the vast amount of superfluous executives clogging the system have made it impossible to make a show that doesn’t talk down to the audience. I only managed one episode of The Deep before giving up, knowing that I would end up having to watch an hour of drama dragged out to five hours through all the exposition and pointless shots of people moving from one place to the other. I’m a fan of clear geography in an action show or film, but I can figure out that someone’s gone from one room to another without seeing them do it.

Filmmakers are coming out to complain more regularly now: Michael Caton-Jones memorably complained about script problems on Spooks just this week, complaining about interference. From a comment piece in The Herald:

“There are lots of layers of people who don’t do very much, most of whom couldn’t get arrested in film,” he said. “There are committees of people who work on scripts, to no real end. In fact, they’re known to directors as The Programme Prevention Unit.”

Mr Caton-Jones said he often finds himself shaking his head at some of the simplistic dialogue and the storylines. “Some of the set-ups are so predictable it’s like watching an episode of Charlie’s Angels,” he said.

“In Spooks, for example, one actress had all these lines to reveal what it meant for her to meet someone after years, and they were all so trite. I took a pencil through them and said, ‘Show me what you’re feeling’ and she did. And she felt a lot better for it. The actors are so good on that series they manage to make it work.”

It’s enough to make you hope things will change if enough creative folk speak up, but I doubt it. I want it too, though. I know the UK is filled with magnificent and talented writers and directors who could easily make shows to challenge the current US dominance. Unfortunately they’re blocked from doing this by ranks of people who have no idea what a creative artist needs to do his job. It’s heartbreaking.

Anyway, enough of that. On with the horror show.

10. Heroes – Thanksgiving

Congratulations, Heroes! Your third season was so utterly, unforgivably dire that SoC couldn’t pick a loser, but this year only about half of your episodes were worthy of this list, while the rest were merely forgettable. This counts as progress: not that this matters what with your cancellation, several years too late. The bad episodes were mostly just perfect examples of how the fourth season was trying hard to take a handful of story-dough and make a vast plot-pizza: perhaps if the show had only had eight episodes we might have had something more coherent. Instead we got hour after hour of ShinyWaxClaire falling out with her dad and/or audience-baiting chaste bi-sexual Gretchen, a laughably over-extended arc for “Nathan”, way too much of Gregg Grunberg looking panicky and yelling at everything in his line of sight, and Sylar, Sylar, Sylar. Though Heroes was improved by an episode-to-episode focus on single themes, it remained tedious and unintentionally funny. Thanksgiving has to be the most risible episode: it’s little more than an hour of families arguing over dinner. It’s as static as you can imagine, with a lot of bad acting being shot across the rubber turkeys and plastic pumpkin pies, and only Robert Knepper making an effort. Will Claire drop out of school? Will Noah get laid? Will “Nathan” turn back into Sylar, or is Adrian Pasdar contracted for another episode or two? Is anyone truly sad this thrill-ride got closed down for health and safety violations?

9. The Prisoner – Darling

Much as I love Lost, the terrible legacy it has given us is a rash of TERRIBLY MYSTERIOUS sci-fi shows that do their best to hide their secrets behind a veil of unusual events and cryptic clues. Almost all of these shows are at least comprehensible on a surface level, but not AMC/ITV’s remake of Patrick McGoohan’s classic 60s paranoia series. On every level the show is visual, aural, and narrative gibberish, but then the secret at the heart of the show is that it’s technically all a kind of dream anyway. The showrunners take this as a cue to throw out the rulebook and just film whatever they feel like, which means non-sequitur editing, ciphers instead of characters, a soundscape that makes it impossible to follow what is going on, etc. In this disastrous episode, we see Hayley “Rather Pretty” Atwell pass out for no reason in the real world, then appear as a blind woman in the Village because why not? She’s in love with 6 and he’s in love with her, which puts Ruth “Eyebrows” Wilson’s 313 right out. But in the end these ciphers are only in love with each other because dastardly Number 2 (who is dastardly because of Reason X, it turns out) has made them fall in love using some scientific potion involving DNA. Brilliant! Except they’re in a dreamworld and therefore technically have no DNA. Is it a metaphor? A satire on modern dating techniques? Or is it another mildly interesting idea thrown at the screen with no exploration or insight or reason, just to add more TERRIBLY MYSTERIOUS MYSTERIOUSNESS to the proceedings? One thing’s for sure: these non-characters are suddenly robbed of even that little bit of personality, reducing them to game pieces in a game with no rulebook. The atmospherics might be interesting, but with no real narrative, who cares?

8. Glee – Theatricality

Yes, this was featured in the Best of the Year poll. No, this is not a typing error. While Theatricality shows the best of Glee, it is also heavily encumbered with the worst as well. Much as I loved the confrontation scene with Kurt’s father and Finn, to get to that point we had to put up with yet more of the excruciating plot with Kurt pining for the lunk-headed football player and trying everything he can to seduce him. In trying to dramatise the confused feelings of a young gay man, they also made him look semi-psychotic: almost certainly unintentional, but still hard to swallow, especially when the showrunners pull their usual trick of selectively forgetting this aspect of Kurt’s personality whenever the “plot” requires. Nevertheless, this was nothing compared to the episode’s most egregious sins: removing Sue Sylvester from the episode in order to fit in a bunch of guff about Lady Gaga; closing the episode with a PSA-style speech from Will that bangs the audience over the head with this week’s themes in a way that is even less subtle than usual, and bringing the hastily-introduced Rachel/Shelby plot to a close with a catastrophically ill-considered piano version of Gaga’s Poker Face. It’s not the first time Glee ruins a moment by using a song that only matches the onscreen events because of a single line in a chorus, but this goes beyond even that. Lea Michele and Idina Menzel are both fine performers and incredible singers, but are here suddenly rendered robotic by overuse of Autotune, and then forced to bring some kind of emotional truth to this moment using a song that simply does not fit with what is going on, and has only been chosen because this episode is meant to pay tribute to a ubiquitous Europop mannequin. Truly the lowpoint of the series.

7. Paradox – Episode 3

As this post progresses, you’ll see a trend developing regarding thriller plots involving super-creepy male predators chasing women. The difference is that while an American show like Dexter will give us nuanced performances from heavy hitters like Michael C. Hall or John Lithgow (who deserved all the praise he got over the last year), we get creepy creepy men in creepy creepy clothes being as obviously evil as possible. We also get no insight into their pathology. While this means at least we don’t hover over the grisly details, it also means there is no context or reason to tell the story. It’s just women-in-peril nonsense, trying to make a too-real concern into the stuff of frivolous entertainment. Not that Paradox counts as entertainment. The BBC’s “homage” to Quantum Leap, Early Edition and Deja Vu shows a bunch of ill-defined and very tense cops who team up with some needlessly bureaucratic government types and a dour and eccentric scientist to decode images from God’s brain (or another universe) and stop catastrophes hours before they occur. The ever-so-slightly more bearable hours of this show play with that format a bit: this one tries to con the audience by introducing three potential rapists (and one handsy “nice guy”) and then having our “heroes” bicker about which is the one to arrest. Cue lots of shouting and running back and forth across Manchester in a desperate attempt to make it seem like something is going on. The director of this abomination — Simon Cellan-Jones — has directed many great hours of TV, including Treme‘s Smoke My Peace Pipe, which was one of my favourites of the year. The existence of this bullshit can be used as proof that right now the BBC doesn’t even know how to utilise its talent anymore. Stay in the States, Simon!

6. Outnumbered – Episode 7

As with many shows, the moment a secret keeper – ignored by critics and audiences – is finally recognised as something worth watching is when the wheels come off. The third season had wonderful moments, but the seventh episode was unforgivable. Angela returns to pester her sister Sue once more, this time with a boorish American husband, improbably named Brick and played with galumphing broad strokes by the usually dependable Douglas Hodge. Poking fun at Angela’s New Age dribblings had provided some amusing moments in the past, especially when her original middle-class programming comes crashing unexpectedly to the forefront, but all we have here are tired “jokes” about how Americans are all so confident and brash and stupid. With the kids sidelined, much of the show’s trademark improvisation is removed in favour of unconvincing histrionics and the snobbery of this offensive stereotypical depiction sucking the energy from everything around it, and when we do get some input from the kids, it’s awfully vanilla. Only the bleak final scene with Sue and Pete lying to their son Jake about the state of their marriage saves it from being a total failure, and even that achievement is dimmed by the fact that the main arc of the season (Pete’s “infidelity”) is so trivial compared to previous ones (domestic violence, Alzheimers) that the torrent of drama it unleashes stretches credibility.

5. V – John May

Mid-season fixes are a normal consequence of showrunners realising there are elements in their new shows that just don’t work. Vampire Diaries got rid of a cast member in memorable style after only a few episodes, killing one of the leads off and then wiping the memory of the one person who cared about her so it wouldn’t get in the way until later. FlashForward tinkered with tone and made slight improvements, but nothing too drastic. If you had hoped that V, which had opened with one of the worst and stupidest pilots in recent years, would make big changes, you were mistaken. The only real differences between early and late episodes were the removal of GeorgiePorgy, who had seemed terribly out of place from the first time he had burst onto set like a slightly more butch Bert Viola, and the introduction of action man and anti-hero Kyle Hobbes, who is approximately 0.0003523% as cool as Michael Ironside’s iconic Übermensch Ham Tyler from the original series. Neither change mattered: it was, from beginning to end, a truly catastrophic show, the worst sci-fi TV series since the Sci-Fi Channel’s Flash Gordon, except even more unimaginative. This episode saw the death of GeorgiePorgy after being tortured with robot insects or something equally complicated (just shut his hand in a door! God!), and the first sighting of resistance leader John May, who was, years before, hunted by Ryan Nichols, member of the elite cadre of badass resistance fighters whose fighting tactic is to stand in a circle and yell at each other. We also see Ryan’s conversion to the Fifth Column by John May, who seems to win him over by boring him into submission. Luckily, the viewer is made of stronger stuff, and can utilise the option of rebelling against the stupidity with the use of channel-changing technology.

4. Defying Gravity – Threshold

I’ll be honest. One of the main reasons I took against Defying Gravity was that even if it ended up cancelled after one short season, it at least managed to hang on longer than potential classic Virtuality, which wasn’t even picked up for a second episode. Even with that bitterness in mind, the third episode of ABC’s cross between Mission To Mars and Grey’s Anatomy was excruciating to watch. With a soundtrack of plinky-plonky “It’s Comedy!” music setting the tone, we flashback to the Antares crew’s training years at the time they are given their “HALO” libido-suppressing tech. This leads to a reverse of Seinfeld’s “Master-of-my-Domain” plot, with the stupid men betting against the giggling women who reckon they can’t get an erection despite all the boner-killing juice flowing through their bodies. This leads them to a stripclub where there is much chatter about gender equality, exploitation of women, manipulation of potential partners, etc. That’s on the female astronauts’ side of the room. The men are, of course, whooping and hollering about the boob-parade. Throughout this we also get to hear lots of agonising from Zoe about the abortion she had to have in order to qualify as an astronaut, because of course she’s just a baby-crazy woman and choosing her career couldn’t possibly fulfill her like that baby could have. What else can you expect from a show that introduces a happy promiscuous woman with the intention of revealing she was born intersexed, was male-dominant but made female by her parents, and would have been turned into a man by an alien deus-ex-machina in later episodes? Get in those gender boxes, ladies and gents, that’s what they’re there for!

3. Luther – Episode Three

Oh how I laughed at Luther. Oh how I obsessed about Luther! I’ll happily admit that once it revealed that it was actually one big crazy story in five parts instead of an episodic tale of combustible Loofah catchin’ crims an’ killahs on the mean streets of Lahhndan, I fell in love with it a little bit more. The last two episodes of this short season weren’t good TV, but by Jove they were fun. The finale out-NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO’d Revenge of the Sith ten times over. No mean feat. Nevertheless, as I stressed in this post earlier this year, it doesn’t excuse this unpalatable hour. The usual showy but ugly compositions were in full effect, as was Ruth “Yes, She Still Has Amazing Eyebrows” Wilson hamming it up as the anti-Loofah, the introduction of DSU Martin Schenk (who appears to have been possessed by the ghost of late-career Donald Pleasance), and the great man himself, DJ Big Driis, goin’ all maverick in order to collah the hysterically overwrought and demonic serial killah — Paul Rhys, showing off all of the tricks he learned at the Sir Anthony Hopkins School of Serial Killer Tics. All very amusing, except that it also featured a victim who is generously given one or two lines of normal dialogue right at the start of the episode before spending the next 40 minutes whimpering in terror and then dying offscreen. After that? Her corpse just a prop for Loofah to nail ‘is man by bendin’ the law. So I suppose her last few hours, filmed in extreme lascivious close-up, served some purpose, other than to be very gritty indeed. A thoroughly nasty episode, one that does the BBC’s drama department no favours. Being edgy only really works when it serves a purpose other than titillation, and the feeble, surface-level exploration of “morality” here is not reason enough.

2: Dexter – Blinded By The Light

Speaking of “edgy” shows “exploring” humanity’s darker nature, four seasons in, Dexter is still asking the same questions about its protagonist: can an emotionally compromised “good” serial killer find a way to reconcile his urge to kill and his growing need to connect with society? Whether this internal battle is worth dramatising at such length is something only the viewer can answer. Fans are transfixed as Michael C. Hall does his usual great work in making a murderer seem charming, while skeptics writhe in eternal agony as the show crawls towards a point over what feels like a million episodes loaded with clunky voiceovers, time-filling sub-plots involving ineptly sketched and poorly performed characters, and lascivious “adult” content including gratuitous boob shots or gore. Of course, we mustn’t forget the moral quandaries that don’t make any sense — either emotionally or logically — but are provided to give the illusion of depth to the tawdry proceedings. It’s CSI: Miami with a light dusting of faux-complexity and dollops of “adult content”. Whenever the Caruso Awards has to pick a worst episode, the problem is that the show exists as a continuum of overrated fail, so which one to choose? Blinded By The Light wins out for the sub-plot with a guy, recently laid-off and grieving for his dead wife, going around Dexter’s neighbourhood vandalising the property of the rich folk. Because that’s what people do when they’re unemployed: go off the rails and spout angry speeches about “making them pay”. That extra layer of insulting “topical” ignorance pushes this episode below the rest. God, I really hate serial killer stories.

1. Modern Family – Come Fly With Me

As mentioned before, Shades of Caruso will stick with shows long after they have annoyed, and so it was that we ignored our instant dislike of the pilot and watched this excruciating half-hour of weak punchlines and oleaginous sentimentality. Buffoonish omega-male Phil attempts to bond with macho father-in-law Jay, who is obsessing over the model plane he bought for his step-son Manny. The accident that occurs is sign-posted so heavily it goes past obviousness, past comedically-obvious obviousness, into anti-comedic clanging predictability. Even worse, the upshot of it all is the resolution — a difference-healing group hug between the dopey guys while the sensible ladies look on with simpering grins. Even worse than that is the sub-plot with Cameron teaching Mitchell the joys of Costco’s low prices and wide range of products. A bit of product placement is one thing: e.g. 30 Rock has skated close to the fire but makes sure to wink at the camera: it doesn’t excuse it, but it makes it palatable, at least. Here we get a laugh-free series of shots of Mitchell expressing shock at the INCREDIBLE BARGAINS. If it were a smarter show I’d think it was satirising product placement, but there’s no flip to the joke. We find out that Costco has a lot of bargains, and Mitchell loves it. End of sub-plot.

EVEN WORSE THAN EVEN THAT EVEN is Alex’s plot. She’s a young brainy girl who resists wearing dresses — a conflict that looks like it might be resolved in an interesting manner — before her hot and sexy step-aunt convinces her to love dresses because that’s how you make the boys like you. Somewhere Betty Friedan — who gets name-checked at one point, seemingly only to make a point that this show is post-stupid-old-feminism — is spinning in her grave. The difference in awfulness between this episode and the episode of Dexter at number two is an exponential curve on top of another exponential curve on top of a turd souffle. Nth power awfulness. No earthly measurement system can chart its evil. Someone drive a stake through its bastard heart and save our souls!

I intend to hand out more awards — both good and bad — though my initial plans to be done by the end of the week might not happen now. It’s taken longer to get done than I had feared, as you can tell from the gargantuan nature of all this ranting. Bear with me: I’ll shout for regular readers on Twitter and Facebook, and brace myself for accidental pagehits from Dexter and Modern Family fans, who may want to stab me for my heresy.