Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Top 10 TV of 1999

By Devin D. O'Leary

JANUARY 10, 2000:  Ten Best TV Shows? Some might call that an oxymoron. Keep in mind that this is the Vast Wasteland (known 'round these parts as the Idiot Box) we're talking about. Are there actually 10 brilliant shows on TV? Of course not. So, here's a list of five great TV shows and five commercials I thought were cool this year.


TV Shows

"Action" (FOX)
They said it wouldn't last. They were right! Of course, it didn't help that several affiliates (including our own beloved KASA-2) refused to show it during prime time. So, in the spirit of this beautifully bleep-heavy Hollywood satire, I'd just like to call everyone who helped contribute to this show's demise a bunch of f*%#@$ morons! Originally conceived as a cable series for Showtime, "Action" became one of the most abrasively funny sitcoms ever put on network television. Comedian/actor Jay Mohr contributed a hilarous portrayal of an acerbic movie producer struggling through a major creative slump. Indie film star Illeana Douglas did Emmy-quality work as Mohr's assistant, a former-child-star-turned-prostitute-turned-studio-exec. Insider Hollywood jokes aside, this show's fearless sense of humor stood out as 1999's boldest TV experiment.

"Freaks & Geeks" (NBC)
"Finally, a series that shows what high school was like for the rest of us," is this show's savvy tagline. It's quite an accurate description for this comic look at school life circa 1980. Rather than the usual band of jocks and cheerleaders (who generally have pretty boring tales to tell), this show concentrates on the lower strata of the high school food chain. Following the adventures of nerdy but nice Sam (John Daley) and his braniac-turned-rebel sis Lindsay (the fall season's breakout performer Linda Cardellini), "F & G" alternates nostalgic hijinks with a level of teenage pathos that blows "Dawson's Creek" and its melodramatic ilk right out of the water. Comedy hasn't felt this honest in ages. Thank the Cathode Ray God that NBC is rescuing this show from Saturday night anonymity and giving it a worthy time-slot on Mondays.

"The Sopranos" (HBO)
OK, besides the fact that it's on HBO, this show rocks. HBO, you see, is staffed by a bunch of pencilheaded jack-offs who don't send press information or screener videos to publications with less than 500,000 circulation (like, oh, the Alibi). Loathe as I am to give these cheap-ass, no-help-giving bastards publicity, there's no denying that "The Sopranos" is top-notch TV. Although a Mafia comedy seemed like a tired idea for a TV series, "The Sopranos" is one of the darkest, wittiest shows in circulation right now. James Gandolfino is perfect as the neurotic, put-upon head of a crumbling mob family. In addition to dealing with inept hirelings and dangerous cops, our poor Prozac-chomping capo must contend with his crazy family, his senile mother and the occasional PTA meeting. This Scorsese-meets-sitcom concept works like gangbusters, making "The Sopranos" one of TV's most entertaining success stories of 1999.

"Spongebob Squarepants" (Nickelodeon)
"Ooooooh, who lives in a pineapple under the sea? Sponge-bob Square-pants. Absorbent and yellow and porous is he. Sponge-bob Square-pants. If nautical nonsense be something ye seek. Sponge-bob Square-pants. Just drop on the deck and flop like a fish!" Man, do I love cartoons -- and this twisted little creation tops my toon tally for 1999. This wonderfully warped creation for kids of all ages mixes the genuinely strange with the genuinely sweet. What else can you say about a show that features a talking sponge who works at a fast-food restaurant at the bottom of the ocean and pals around with a dim-bulb starfish, a cranky squid and a cute land squirrel in a diving suit? "Spongebob Squarepants" tempers the edgy elements of "Ren & Stimpy" with the simple humor of classic kids' programming. Here's one cartoon that remembers the single most important element to an enduring cartoon -- pure unadulterated joy!

"That '70s Show" (FOX)
I still maintain that this is the most subversive TV show on the air. Not only does it cast a cynical eye back on that wonderfully sick decade known as the 1970s, but it uses the conventions of the stereotypical '70s sitcom to skewer the entire era with surprising insight. "That '70s Show" basically spends its time retrofitting old "Happy Days" scripts with keg parties, teen sex, divorce, The Pill, Jonathan Livingston Seagull and the occasional secret marijuana tokefest. I laugh my guts up every time I watch this hilariously written, wonderfully cast, perfectly timed sitcom parody. Anyone who doesn't like it is -- to paraphrase Red Foreman -- "a dumb-ass."


Commercials

That "Khakis Swing" Ad for the Gap got pretty well overplayed -- but for a while, it sure was exciting to see. Not only did it inspire a string of cool (but not as cool) Gap song-and-dance routines, but it proved a technical forerunner to the razzle-dazzle freeze-frame camerawork of The Matrix.

That Volkswagen Commercial Where They Drive Down a Rainy Street and Everything Moves to the Beat of a Lazy Drum-and-Bass Song makes me want to get in a car and drive, which I suppose is the sign of a successful commercial. I sure hope they include a tape of that song with every car.

Advertising for online companies exploded this year, but the One for Monster.Com was the best -- funny, thought-provoking and a great riff on Nike's ubiquitous "I can" ads. It's the one with the string of earnest kids explaining their low-aiming adult aspirations: "I wanna claw my way up to middle management!" "I wanna have a brown nose!" "I wanna be downsized by the time I'm 35!"

That Coke Ad with the Giggling Babe sure pops my soda. Those huge eyes! Those wet lips! Those cola bubbles right up the nose! My God, it's the hottest thing on TV since that razor ad with the French chick shaving her face and calling me a big baby!

Feature film director Michael Bay (The Rock, Armageddon) is the talent behind the Cool Jeans Ad Where Two Invisible People Get It On. It's technically dazzling, strangely arousing and the punch line ain't bad either.


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