It’s been a big year in television so far, and it’s fair to say that by the end of the year, the landscape will change again with the Breaking Bad midseason finale, the return of Dexter, Boardwalk Empire, and Sons of Anarchy, a new network season which may or may not continue to see ratings deterioration, and the final season of Community. But before we turn the page on the first seven months of the year, I thought it’d be appropriate to look back at the seven biggest stories of the year, so far. There will be SPOILERS, but don’t worry about it, apparently television viewers LOVE spoilers.
7. Newsroom — Aaron Sorkin’s highly anticipated return to television — on cable no less — was met with almost immediate hostility by critics, starting with an early review from Alyssa Rosenberg at Think Progress that opened the floodgates for the rest of the Internet’s critics. Smug, sanctimonious, and self-righteous become the most popular terms to describe Sorkin’s show, while criticisms ranged from badly written women, to recycled dialogue, and most recently, recycled plot lines. Despite online hostility, the show has been picked up for a second season (and Aaron Sorkin has fired all of his writers), the ratings are holding well, and most viewers have managed to find enough to redeem Newsroom to not just stick with it, but occasionally — in defiance of critics — enjoy it.
6. The Walking Dead — After a lackluster opening half to the second season of The Walking Dead and a scrapped opening episode that would’ve blown a whole in the Internet, the new showrunner Glen Mazzara more or less wiped Frank Darabount’s slate clean earlier this year and finally began moving his characters forward. The last six episodes saw Dale die, Rick kill Shane, and a zombie invasion on the farm that forced the survivors toward a prison. Then Michonne showed up and knocked us on our asses. Unfortunately, there was nothing Mazzara could do to save Lori: She and her son Carl remain two of the most hated and insufferable characters on television.
5. Girls — Lena Dunham’s new HBO show was instantly divisive, separating those who found the comedy to be wildly original and those who found it to be representative of a new generation of annoyingly privileged white women (it was both). The show was accused of nepotism, criticized for its lack of minority representation, and taken to the woodshed for celebrating solipsism. Even James Franco and Louis CK weighed in. Jimmy Kimmel called it one of the best shows ever. Eventually, however, Girls would find its voice, and those who stuck with the show — even its critics — were rewarded with a brilliant comedy about insufferable and/or relatable women (depending on your perspective). Adam Driver’s character, Adam Sackler, would ultimately become the show’s real standout, although Allison Williams would become the object of fantasy.
4. The Return of Breaking Bad — One of the most highly anticipated shows of the year, Breaking Bad returned in July and picked up right where the outstanding fourth season finale left it. No one was disappointed in the premiere (except maybe Bret Easton Ellis), which saw record ratings for the series after picking up hundreds of thousands of viewers over the hiatus. The Vince Gilligan drama is halfway through the front eight of a final season that is building it’s anti-hero, Walter White, into a true, despicable villain largely by working him against the more sympathetic and reasonable killer Mike. The authorities are working in on Gus Fring’s parent company and attempting to turn Gus’ old employees on each other, while Walt has completely alienated his wife, Skylar, and regained the trust of the man he’s screwed over the most, Jesse. It’s continued to prove itself as the most compelling hour of drama on television, and there are still some Chekhov’s guns waiting to go off.
3. Mad Men — After a two year layoff owed to a contract dispute, Matthew Weiner’s show returned to record ratings and became one of the most talked about series of the year. There was very little criticism leveled at the AMC drama, which turned in several of the absolute finest hours of television this year. The series took us through Don Draper’s adjustment to marriage to a younger, cooler woman; Fat Betty; Lane’s fight with slimeball f*ck-weasel Pete; Sally’s period; a $250,000 Beatles song; Joan sleeping her way into a partnership; Peggy’s decision to leave the ad agency; Lane’s suicide; and Don’s potential return to his philandering ways. All in all, it was one of all time best overall seasons of television.
2. Blackwater — Game of Thrones — It often felt like the entire first half of the television year was working up toward the “Blackwater” episode of Game of Thrones, and it didn’t disappoint. One of the most lavishly produced and expensive hours of TV (which a lot of people saw illegally) saw King Joffrey pus out and Tyrion Lannister take control in the battle against Stannis Baratheon, a battle that Stannis lost in dramatic fashion thanks to the last minute arrival of Tywin Lannister and his men. Indeed, the battle was so epic that it managed to make an otherwise powerful season finale something of an afterthought, although the George Bush controversy generated plenty of headlines.
1. Dan Harmon Fired — The biggest story of the year in television so far had to be the firing of Community showrunner, Dan Harmon. After Community was pulled from the schedule over Christmas and returned several months later, much of the waning weeks of the primetime television season focused on whether Community would be renewed for a fourth season. After an uptick in ratings relative to the rest of NBC’s schedule, Community received a last-minute renewal for 13 episodes. Soon after the three-episode finale night that saw a brilliant 8-bit video game episode and a season finale that could’ve doubled nicely as a series finale, Dan Harmon was let go by NBC. A lot of reasons were put forward, including Harmon’s public feud with Chevy Chase, Harmon’s refusal to accept feedback from network executives, and low ratings. Harmon was replaced with David Garascio and Moses Port and the cast was told to keep it cool. Harmon has since accepted some responsibility for his ouster, and just last week was hired to pen a script for a multi-camera sitcom on Fox.