Much like last year, this television season was a tumultuous one, let’s get that straight. With shows being delayed for various reasons and producers deciding how they wanted to handle the Pandemic (whether to incorporate it entirely, utilize it in an episode or two and then move on, acknowledge it but jump past it, or completely ignore it), it wasn’t guaranteed that your favorite shows would be back this year, much less be as high of quality as they have in the past. Once November rolled around, though, and stations began rolling out their new shows and seasons, most of that anxiety fell to the wayside, eventually returning are televisions back to relative normal (with the exception of a few more breaks between episodes than usual for most shows).
Now it’s that time again to present some awards to the shows that kept us entertained through the sustained pandemic in my annual TV Awards! (See previous Awards – 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013).
The Emmy’s air this Sunday, as usual, to kick off the new network season, so over the next few days I’ll grant awards, good and bad, to twenty-five different series, compiling several actors, scenes and moments that resonated with me in some form or another over the last twelve months.
Best New Series: Resident Alien
When you consider a show to be the best, you want it to represent everything good about television, spinning the hour away with ease and getting you excited for the next week’s episode. With all of the delays this season and the lack of a true pilot season, it was starting to look grim that any new show would be able to pull this off. Then a little show on SyFy called Resident Alien answered the call. Within the first few minutes, Alan Tudyk uses his amazing talent to set the tone for the entire season, laying the foundation for the cast of wacky small town characters that still feel incredibly real, and a somewhat absurd premise of an alien who hides his identity while looking for pieces of his crashed ship to help him complete his mission of destroying the world. This type of show normally uses a premise like this to change the mind of the main character to the point that he no longer wants to complete his mission. Although that is still a possibility going into future seasons, the producers aren’t rushing it here. No matter how much the people and the town grow on this alien, his objective to destroy Earth is still as strong as its ever been by the end of the season. If anything is able to stop the Earth-destroyer from completing his mission, it will be the love of his best friend (Sara Tomko) or his growing friendship with Max (Judah Prehn), the young boy who sees through his human mask to the alien inside. How the writers got these two from warring enemies into respected frenemies isn’t only the best part of the series, it shows how well-thought out all of the plots were, and how the creators weren’t too worried about offending people, no matter how weird the world might get.
Worst New Series: Chip & Dale: Park Life
Eighties cartoons were the pinnacle of not only Saturday morning awesomeness, but also a must-see weekday extravaganza. Almost every cartoon featured was well-written and well-animated with outstanding voice casts, plots and messages. One of the shows included in this group was Chip and Dale’s Rescue Rangers, which entertained us with some great action sequences, outstanding camaraderie and top-of-the-line humor. So how much of a disappointment was it to see everything that made the original cartoon so good completely stripped away in Disney+’s new iteration of the comedic duo, Chip & Dale: Park Life. Not only is the animation rote and devoid of any life, so too are the characters and the arbitrary story lines. The first mistake: stripping the titular duo of their voices. By keeping them from being able to talk to one other, much less quip about what’s happening to others, the creators of this version do a disservice not only to the characters themselves, who need their voices to banter effectively, but to the fans of the original show as well.
Best Mini-Series: The Queen’s Gambit
I wasn’t sure what to make of The Queen’s Gambit when it first arrived on Netflix. By the title alone, I thought it was yet another costume drama about some spoiled royal. Then I learned that the title was actually referencing the famous chess opening and my interest was piqued. Add in Anya-Taylor Joy and it suddenly became a must see. Upon viewing the first couple of episodes, not only did the show live up to the hype it had prior to me finally watching the show, but it exceeded my expectations for a show revolving around chess. No matter how much I enjoy playing chess myself, it isn’t always the most exciting subject matter to be put to film. But the producers did some terrific work in making not only the game itself exhilarating, but the story line evolved into a captivating melodrama. Joy does a terrific job bringing the real-life character of child chess prodigy Beth Harmon to life and helps make the chess sequences stimulating enough to keep you glued to the outcome. Although the series did devolve a little as it worked to its finale, it stayed true to itself and the game, and for that, it deserves as much respect as I can muster.
Best Reboot: Animaniacs
With so many shows from the eighties and nineties getting reboots, things inevitably get changed for a new era and a new audience. Sometimes the animation changes; sometimes the old cast is replaced; sometimes new writers change too many things that effect the atmosphere of the show. Sometimes it’s all three. In some cases, these things work (see Ducktales); other times, like Chip & Dale: Park Life (see above) it destroys any semblance of what the original show was. Then comes along Animaniacs, which didn’t do any of these things for the betterment of the show. Aside from a High Definition upgrade, the producers kept the animation and the voice cast exactly the same and the writers didn’t stray very far from what the original intent of the show was — to be as meta and zany and completely nuts as it could while still delivering educational messages. From a fan’s perspective, I couldn’t have asked for more from a reboot. Yes, I am disappointed that, other than Pinky and the Brain, the producers didn’t bring back any of the other side characters. This could be because they couldn’t afford the cast member (or they just didn’t want to return), or they wanted to play it a bit safe by staying with what made the show popular in the first place. Whatever the reason, they could have found a cast that could mimic the voices well enough to keep them around. There’s one episode in particular that was great on this behalf, but at the same time disheartening knowing that it was the only time we’d get to see some of these incredible characters. In the end, other than a few lazy jokes, the majority of the show hit all of the right beats with its characters and the overall flow, especially when it embraced the lunacy of their parodies. Looking very much forward to season 2.
Series that shouldn’t have been this good: Kevin Can F*** Himself
Based on the title and the premise of the show, which revolves around disgruntled housewife, Allison (Annie Murphy), who not only pictures her life with her husband (Eric Peterson) as a sitcom, but decides that murdering Kevin is the only way out of this corny, depressing lifestyle, I wasn’t looking forward to watching Kevin Can F*** Himself in the least. But like most shows, I gave the first episode a chance. It wasn’t the greatest premiere but it was interesting enough to continue watching. By the third episode I was hooked. At no time would I have thought bouncing back and forth between a sitcom-style format into a typical drama format would work, but the way the producers of the show handle the transitions, even the ones that are basic smash cuts from one to the other, are done extremely well. Making sure that no matter where the characters were, if Kevin and his dim-bulb best-friend/next-door-neighbor, Neil (Alex Bonifer), were on screen, we would be in the sitcom format was a great way to differentiate the two genre styles and led to a great twist in the final moments of the episode when Allison all but knocks Neil into the real world where people (and characters) actually bleed their own blood. The pairings were all done extremely well, the focus on the sitcom tropes, like the fat slob with the skinny, hot wife who’s always got a money-making scheme up his sleeve, were done with fantastic ease, and the journey Allison takes to get the drugs necessary to murder Kevin stayed true to Allison and the characters she encounters, all to make sure to keep Allison relatable even as she continues to do something so sinister.
Series that should have been better: Clarice
I had high hopes for Clarice when it was first announced. With the pedigree the show was branching away from, Clarice had the potential to be a very high-end procedural. But somewhere in the casting, the writing and the direction of the show, something went horribly wrong. It was always going to be tough to cast someone to match the caliber of Jodie Foster as freshan FBI-agent Clarice Starling, so it’s no surprise that Rebecca Breeds couldn’t hold a candle to Foster’s gravitas. From the few episodes I watched, Breeds seemed so much more meek and vulnerable than she should have been given the character’s journey setup in the Silence of the Lambs. At the same time, she tried too hard to appear tougher and stronger than she was. Add in a cliché band of FBI agents and what we’re left with is a routine procedural that had nothing much to say and nothing at all to add to the story of Clarice Starling and the world originally created by Thomas Harris.
Best New Character: Harry Vanderspeigle (Alan Tudyk), Resident Alien
There weren’t a lot of new characters this season that truly stood out to me except for Alan Tudyk’s Harry Vanderspeigle on Resident Alien. The way this nefarious alien attempts to fit in as a human all the while contemplating the destruction of everyone around him is balanced perfectly throughout the season. Even as the character grows as a human and becomes emotionally connected to those who become his friends, he remains incessant on his mission and loyal to his own species. The majority of why this character works so well is because of Alan Tudyk’s comic timing and his adeptness at utilizing his malleable facial expressions and mannerisms without making them feel unnecessary or manufactured. Tudyk’s ability to make you care for this alien’s growth and loath his menacing grimace at the same time makes him the perfect hero and the perfect villain at the same time. Harry’s often outlandish, yet hilarious reactions to learning new things are the cherry on top of this character’s ultimate growth, humanity, humility, and danger.
Best Character Recast: Pietro Maximoff, aka Quicksilver (Evan Peters), WandaVision
One of the best surprises this season had to offer was one the worst things a series can do — recasting a beloved character. There are plenty of reasons to recast a character in a popular television show, but it never feels right when it happens. That is until Wanda’s brother mysteriously shows up and Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) makes the (un)conscious decision to believe it’s her real brother. Because Pietro died in Avengers: Age of Ultron, bringing back the original portrayer, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, would have felt false, not only to MCU followers, but to Wanda herself, who deep down knows her brother is dead but doesn’t want to believe anything that has happened in the MCU thus far. The best part of the recast, though, is in the actor the producers of WandaVision chose to utilize. By bringing on board Evan Peters to play a different iteration of the same character he played in Twentieth Century Fox’s X-Men franchise was outright genius. Not only does it pay fan service to those who love both franchises, but it opens the door to some terrific opportunities that Marvel can play with now that they, through Disney, have the rights to the X-Men characters. Although it ultimately turned out that Evan Peter’s Pietro is simply some kid next door, with the multiverse about to be ripped wide open in Spider-Man: No Way Home, this could be the chance to bring his Quicksilver back to life once and for all.
Best Callback: The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers
Fans of The Mighty Ducks knew that Gordon Bombay (Emilio Estevez) was eventually going to start coaching the Don’t Bothers at some point during the first season of Disney+’s revitalization of Disney’s hit hockey movie franchise, and the producers didn’t disappoint. The first day Gordon officially coaches the team on his own (without Lauren Graham’s motherly coach), Gordon whips out one of his old techniques to teach the new crop of misfits how to use soft hands to control the puck. However, as opposed to using eggs as he once did in the original film, Gordon updates his drill to the twenty-first century and has each of the kids slide their phones back and forth. Eggs are one thing — who in their right mind would want to break their phone in a practice drill? The scene ended up being a great callback and great upgrade for one of the most memorable Disney coaches ever put to film.
Best Twist: Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist
In the season finale of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, Zoey (Jane Levy) is constantly attempting to tell Max (Skylar Austin) how she feels about him before he jets off to New York to start his pop-up restaurant franchise. After seeing him sing a heart song to whom she thought was his new girlfriend Rose (Katie Findlay), Zoey feels lost and confused — and of course heartbroken. Thinking she lost him forever, Max shows up in the park later that day to tell her he decided not to go because he was still in love with her. During the couple’s discussion, the tension begins to mount; we know there’s going to be a heart song to end the episode, so the whole time we’re expecting Max to break out in song but hoping at the same time it would be Zoey. Unlike Debris (see Part 3), Zoey’s turned the tables on itself and allowed Zoey to break out in song, leaving Max bewildered at was happening around him. It was the perfect way to end the season as well as the series. With the decision to give Zoey’s a two-hour Christmas wrap-up movie later next year, it now begs the question — do Max and Zoey both have the power to see other people’s heart songs now, or was the power officially transferred to Max? And if the latter, will Zoey ever get it back? Or does she want it back? I guess we’ll find out next year.
Check out Part 2 of our Television Awards, which includes a lot of death and disgust, including the Most Surprising Death, the Saddest Death, the Most Shocking Death and the Creepiest Special Effect.