This Was Television: Happy 2013 (and Highlights of 2012)

While it’s a few days late, all of us here at This Was Television want to wish a Happy New Year to our readership, and thank you once again for the great start we had in 2012. We’ve been gradually emerging from our holiday comas with the return of My So-Called Life and Dick Van Dyke reviews, as well as the launch of Noel’s new Astro Boy coverage. Expect to see the return of several popular features over the next few days, including January’s Hall of Fame discussion and the announcement of our next roundtable topic.

And as one last nod to 2012, we have an additional post recognizing the good work done in our first year. We acknowledged our staff’s personal picks for best of 2012 towards the end of the year, and now our WordPress overlords have let us know the top five most read posts of the year. Since it’s interesting to us what pieces garnered the most attention, we thought we’d share that information with you and offer some of our thoughts on why we’re proud these articles reached the audience they did.

5. Fawlty Towers, “A Touch of Class” and “The Builders” by Les Chappell

Basil_FawltyUnsurprisingly, our most-read review of the year was a review at one of the most famous sitcoms of all time, John Cleese’s epic farce Fawlty Towers. Les took apart the first two episodes of the series, enjoying both the slapstick and wordplay that the show’s famous for but also marveling at just how well constructed of a show it was, ranging from the interconnected nature of the sets to the distinct strengths each member of the ensemble brought forward. And of course, a vast appreciation for the lead character Basil Fawlty, played so effortlessly by Cleese:  “That dichotomy is illustrated to remarkable effect in the way he deals with everyone around him: looking down his nose at every single guest with thinly veiled contempt, but when the seemingly distinguished Lord Melbury shows up a switch is flipped and suddenly he can’t bend over backward fast enough. (Literally in some cases—Cleese’s height and gangly frame lets him pack a lot of energy into his movements, particularly in the cramped setting of the hotel dining room.)” And to those asking, coverage of the second series is one of many projects coming to This Was Television in 2013.

4. Women in the Box: Ellie Walker, The Andy Griffith Show by Sabienna Bowman

Ellie and AndySabienna’s first column on the iconic female characters of TV history was an early hit for what’s become one of our most popular series, looking at the life of Ellie Walker and her short-lived efforts to bring Mayberry into a more enlightened state of mind. Ellie was a character who vanished from the show in the first season (indeed, most fans of the show would probably have to take a moment to remember who she was), but Sabienna picked three episodes that proved had she stayed with the show, it could have been a very different and far more progressive show. A wonderful exposure of a wonderful character: “In her twelve episodes, Ellie challenged Andy and Mayberry more than any of the opportunistic criminals that would roll into town over the next seven seasons. She provided a source of internal, culturally current conflict that didn’t jive with the show tonally.”

3. “So, could Aaron Sorkin ever write women?” by Andy Daglas

Felicity Huffman as Dana Whitaker.Debate over the portrayal of women on Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom was one of the most heated TV discussions in 2012, and it fell to This Was Television to observe that this isn’t a new problem for the often controversial showrunner. Andy’s excellent look back at the early episodes of Sports Night finds that even in his first show, Sorkin struggled to invest his female characters with a consistent level of agency, the successful moments of Dana and Natalie in “Mary Pat Shelby” spoiled almost immediately after in the next episode “The Head Coach, Dinner and The Morning Mail.” As Andy so astutely noted, Sorkin’s problems may not be intent, but a tone-deaf approach to how he presents the matter: “I think on some level, he believes the praise he vicariously showers upon them. Unfortunately it reeks of tokenism when he relies upon, or forces, the audience to view their positive traits through the prism of a more robustly written male character.”

2. Black in Time: A Celebration of TV’s Black Nerds by Erin Canty

Comparing Dwayne Wade and Dwayne WayneErin’s look at Black nerds was another strong start for what’s become a very popular series for us, and also one of our more timely pieces thanks to the resurgence of such characters in shows like Happy Endings, Key and Peele and Community. The piece selected an excellent range of not-so-standard nerds—Raj Thomas, Dwayne Wayne and Carlton Banks—explained exactly why we liked them so much, and what footprint they left on characters today. More importantly, it was another piece that put the past in present context, with Erin’s argument on how the latter part of their character has become more important than the former: “The burden of having to represent every African–American person ever is lifted and viewers can appreciate these characters for being black Nerds instead of Black nerds. It may seem like a small victory, and perhaps it is, but it’s another step toward increased representation for characters of color.” (And again, she did all this without specifically highlighting Urkel, which deserves its own trophy.)

1. Okay, I Finally Watched It: Buffy the Vampire Slayer by Les Chappell

Buffy_Rocket_LauncherWe all know that the Internet loves Joss Whedon, and we had one more piece of evidence to that regard in our most-read piece of 2012: Les’ s first time through the early seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. While free of any controversial stances on the series, it was a piece that charted just how impressive the show’s growth was as it learned from its mistakes, and highlighted the arcs that even today rank as some of the best character development ever to be featured on television. It may not be a show that needs more exposure (unlike some of the other forgotten gems covered by our writers over the year) but it’s a show that there’s always something to say about, and one that Les was pleased to finally gain an appreciation for: “I finally understand why so many of these titles are spoken of with admiration bordering on reverence. They’re clever and deep, but they’re also damn fun, a tightrope that Whedon’s writing walks better than most any TV writer I’ve encountered.”

So once again, thanks to everyone for reading in 2012. We’re all eager to see what’ll top the list by this time next year.

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