Wednesday, January 6, 2010


Time to wrap up this self-indulgent and totally unnecessary exploration of my favorite pop culture fixes of the 00’s, with a look at TV and music—starting with three television shows that never...well, rarely...failed to engage and entertain me.

1)  Scrubs
30 Rock is terrific, Arrested Development inspires manic loyalty, but Scrubs was the sit-com of the decade for me.  Sure it’s stumbled in recent years (the current season, which is really a new show going under an old name, hasn’t yet found its footing), but, for most of its run, Scrubs—with an amazing cast led by Zach Braff and John C. “Why hasn’t this man won an Emmy?” McGinley—was a perfect balance of cartoon nonsense and heartfelt humanity.  Laugh out loud funny and deeply touching.  A rare mix. 

2)  Boston Legal
Well, maybe not that rare.  If Scrubs was a comedy with a dramatic heart, Boston Legal was a drama with a comedic soul.  It matched Scrubs’ mix of nonsense and humanity then added a healthy dose of political passion and some outraged howls in the name of social justice.  But the heart and soul of BL—which was my absolute favorite show of the decade—was the relationship between James Spader’s Alan Shore and William Shatner’s Denny Crane:  as honest and intimate a depiction of male friendship as television has ever seen.  God, I miss those guys.

3)  Lost
I almost bailed during the third season, but Lindeloff and Cuse turned things around so brilliantly—especially with their end of the year, flash-forward mindwarp—that I became a born-again Lostie.  If, in the upcoming final season, these two amazingly talented writer-producers manage to complete their story in a coherent and satisfying way, Lost will go down as one of the greatest shows in television history.  And, hey, even if they totally screw up the finale, it won’t change the fact that Lost redefined the one-hour drama and entertained the hell out of me for a good part of the decade.

And let’s not forget the two most trusted men in news:  Countdown’s Keith Olbermann and The Daily Show’s John Stewart.  Olbermann’s a serious newsman with a comedian’s anarchic spirit (Edward R. Murrow meets Steve Allen) while Stewart is a class clown with the soul of a media sage (Jerry Lewis meets Walter Cronkite).  No one speaks truth to power better than Olbermann and no one nails the political hypocrites better than Stewart.  


Finally, some of my favorite music from the decade that saw the crash of the CD and the rise of the MP3.

1)  The Postal Service:  Give Up/Death Cab for Cutie:  Transatlanticism
The problem with Give Up was that I couldn’t:  I kept listening to this Death Cab for Cutie spin-off band over and over and over and over, entranced by smart lyrics and captivating melodies floating against a backdrop of odd, playful—but always grounded—electronica.   Speaking of Death Cab:  they were one of my favorite bands of the 00’s.  They’ve done a number of first-rate albums, but Transatlanticism was the one that introduced me to DCFC, so it gets a special place of honor. 

2)  Dirty Projectors:  Bitte Orca  

It sounds like everything you’ve ever listened to and nothing you’ve ever heard before.  Brain-rattling time jumps, shimmering guitars, circular melodies, voices like demented angels.  It’s all brilliant...and just a little disturbing.  (That’s a good thing, believe me.) 

3)  William Shatner:  Has Been
You’re only laughing if you haven’t heard it.  Thirty-five years after the relentlessly ridiculed Transformed Man, Shatner—with more-than-a-little-help from Ben Folds and friends—surprised the mockers by producing this honest, funny, and moving musical autobiography.  Worth hearing, even if you don’t give a damn about James T. Kirk or Denny Crane.

4)  Sigur Ros:  Ágætis Byrjun 
Listening to this astounding Icelandic band is like taking a journey to the farthest edge of the universe and discovering you’ve ended up in the center of your own soul.  An experience both cosmic and intimate.

5)  Asha Bosle and the Kronos Quartet:  You’ve Stolen My Heart
Bollywood pop that transcends itself and becomes so much more:  earthy, celestial, mournful, joyful and exhilarating.  If this was an old-fashioned record (any of you remember those?), I would’ve worn out the grooves.

6)  Múm:  Finally We Are No One
Imagine being abducted by alien musicians who then spend fifty-six minutes flooding your mind with their other-dimensional compositions.  Spacey—in the most magical sense of the word.

I also spent considerable time with Paul McCartney’s Memory Almost Full, Feist’s Let It Die and The Reminder and just about everything by the Album Leaf; enjoyed the soundtracks from Slumdog Millionaire and Om Shanti Om, Deuter’s meditative soundscapes, Arcade Fire's wall of sound and—

Nope.  I’m stopping right here.  If I don’t, this could go on till 2020.

© copyright 2010 J.M. DeMatteis


  1. Loving these lists! Could not agree more on the Shatner record. Ben Folds took a running pop culture gag and worked with Shatner to mine it for real pathos and depth. "That's Me Trying" is a great song about fatherhood.

    I personally enjoyed Chaos and Creation in the Backyard out of Macca's aughts output; love the more organic, underproduced feel of that record.

  2. I suspected SCRUBS would make the list! I don't why, I just had a feeling.

    It is a fantastic show, and in a lot of ways I think it's a modern day answer to MASH. Now I'm not saying it's the same, mind you--I know how quickly those kinds of comparisons can fall flat. It's a more exuberant show than MASH, but I do think there's a similar contrast between life and joy and humor bursting forth in the halls where death echoes.


  3. Great list. It's nice to see Sigur Ros in someone else's awareness. Stream it from Grooveshark here:

  4. I enjoyed CHAOS AND CREATION as well, Matt: I think "Jenny Wren" is one of McCartney's most beautiful songs ever. That said, MEMORY really caught me with that closing medley. And I loved "Mr. Bellamy."

    It's the honesty of HAS BEEN that really grabbed me. "That's Me Trying" is terrific. I'm also inordinately fond of "It Hasn't Happened Yet" and the title track.

  5. Totally agree with you re: the SCRUBS/MASH comparison, David. Very different shows, but with very similar DNA.

  6. As usual, Tim, it was my son who turned me on to Sigur Ros...and I remain incredibly grateful.

  7. I totally agree with you about Scrubs and Lost. Two of my favorite shows.

    Though, I agree that the new Scrubs hasn't found it footing yet. I was enjoying the new format a little bit (though not as much as the old format) and then J.D. left. Just couldn't get into the first J.D.-less episode. Not sure if it'll recover from the loss of its orignal main character...(not really sure if the new character, Lucy, can be as good a viewpoint character)

    As for Lost, can't wait to see the new season in early Feb! :)

    Other shows I liked a lot last year: Battlestar Galactica, Stargate Universe, House, Medium, Supernatural, Fringe, Burn Notice, Monk, CSI (the orignal), and Warehouse 13.

    As for music, I really enjoyed Paul McCartney's recent concert/album Good Evening New York City.

  8. I love FRINGE, Daniel: never miss it. John Noble deserve an Emmy for his portrayal of Walter Bishop: the guy is amazing.

    As for SCRUBS: at the moment it just seems stuck in an odd place. Distant echoes of the old show are everywhere and yet the new hasn't really taken root. I'm still watching every week (I enjoyed Elliot's return last night) but, given that the ratings have been pretty abysmal, I suspect the series is a goner. Last seasons's "series finale" was pretty wonderful. I think they should have just stopped there, as planned.

    No arguments about McCartney: 67 years old and he shows no signs of stopping.

  9. The Daily Show: more actual NEWS than all of the news networks combined.

  10. I agree about John Noble. He's brillant as Walter Bishop!

    Scrubs: I missed the "series finale", I've mostly watched Scrubs in reruns in the past, so I've missed some of th episodes previous to this season. I'll have to check that finale out. The new season is interesting, but I think they definitly should have stopped before now. Its seems like Scrubs is attempting something like MASH did. Sort of an After

    Paul: I hope he never does stop. Well, I know he will one day, but I hope he keeps going for as long as he can & has something to say.

  11. I too miss Alan and Denny terribly!!! BOSTON LEGAL was beyond a doubt my favorite show of the decade...actually my favorite show ever!

  12. It continues to astound me, Rob, that THE DAILY SHOW often gets to the heart of the matter far better than any of the "legitimate" news shows.

    And no one is better at catching politicians (of any party) and media bloviators in their own lies...and having the videotape to prove it.

  13. You're not the first person to make the comparison to AFTERMASH, Daniel -- and it's an apt one.

    I think some of McCartney's music of the past decade has been his best since the Beatles days. Here's to many more years of great songs and performances.

  14. Nothing makes me happier than encountering a fellow BOSTON LEGAL fanatic. But why remain Anonymous?

  15. I'd be interested to see if you have any guesses for shows that might make the grade over the next decade? It's all speculation, obviously, but there's been some strong shows coming forward in the last two or three years.

    At any rate, I think it always fun to look back at these kinds of guesses and see how they played out.


  16. The one new(ish) show I'm totally addicted to, David, is the aforementioned FRINGE. I've also been watching MODERN FAMILY semi-regularly and find it smart, touching and (at least a few times each episode) laugh out loud funny. But I suspect that most of the shows that will leave the biggest imprint on the new decade haven't even arrived yet. A few might be percolating in some writer's fertile brain right now.

  17. I think MODERN FAMILY is a wonderful show, and I think it might go down in entertainment history as Ed O'Neill's best work. That could be a personal bias, though, as I never really liked MARRIED WITH CHILDREN.

    I've enjoyed HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER but I doubt it can continue long enough to make a bigger mark this decade than the last. Still, it's a fantastic show and if you haven't seen it you might give the first season a try.

    I do think THE BIG BANG THEORY has the potential to go the distance. Even if the show doesn't hold up as well over time, I think Sheldon will be one of the most memorable characters of this era.


  18. I don't think I've ever seen more than five minutes (if that much) of MARRIED WITH CHILDREN, David, but O'Neil is certainly in fine form in MODERN FAMILY.

    I've seen a handful of BIG BAND episodes and found them entertaining (considering how geek-centric the show is, how could I not?), but I don't feel compelled to follow it. Might be one of those shows that I'll catch up with once it's in syndication.

  19. Well, time moves on so quickly. Seems like yesterday when I saw you at Comic-Con in Baltimore (I was the fellow in the John Lennon shirt, stumbling over his own words).

    I just wanted to concur about Boston Legal. I only recently discovered it but it has already becomeone of my family's favorite shows! Perfectly cast, wickedly funny, hearftfelt, and - that key element - passionate. The best portrayal of male friendship (buddy love!) since Starsky and Hutch...curses; I revealed too much!

    We're well into BL's second season now. A highlight has become our daughter spontaneously breaking into the theme song ("Mow, mow?" How would one spell that?) or murmuring "Denny Crane" with fantastic comic timing. We look forward to the rest!

    As an aside, I finally got to read Savior 28 recently; thoroughly enjoyed it! And, in the future, I shall go into how much I have enjoyed your Bwah-ha-ha! works as well as your spiritual ones! Much like a con, too much to say in a short time/ "thank you!" must suffice.

  20. You're very welcome!

    I remember you from the con, Scott. Happy to hear that you're a fellow BOSTON LEGAL fanatic. "Denny Crane" indeed!

    Since you're a Giffen-DeMatteis fan, I hope you've been enjoying our (soon to be over) METAL MEN run. I'm sorry to see MM go, we were just getting rolling, but Keith and I have another DC project coming up in the first half of this year that I think will satisfy the folks who enjoy our collaboration. There will be plenty of "Bwa-ha-ha" to go around.

  21. If you haven't already, you should really check out the band Dr. Dog. I'm pretty sure you would dig them. Any album... and thanks so much for the Harold and Maude reply! Sam

  22. I'll be sure to check Dr. Dog out, Sam. Thanks for the recommendation.

  23. Thanks for the heads-up about HAS BEEN. I'm definitely going to check it out - quite literally if my library has it. I always try to vet anything before purchasing and the library's great for that.
    Absolutely love BL which wandered onto my radar via re-runs shortly after the series was cancelled.

  24. I think you'll find HAS BEEN pretty entertaining...and surprisingly moving.

    I'm very glad BL's out there in reruns. I don't drink and I don't smoke, but I'd share a scotch and a cigar with Alan Shore and Denny Crane any day. Okay, so I'd probably throw up afterward, but, hey, it'd be worth it!