The Wife:

Happy Holidays, ya’ll! As I sit at home enjoying my well-preserved end-of-year vacation (watching A Muppet Christmas Carol), I started to look back on the year in TV. Even though the writer’s strike stalled a lot of shows, I think we still got a pretty good year of television in. Sure, there weren’t many pilots appearing this fall and, certainly, a number of good shows fell victim to low-post strike ratings and will soon be leaving us for good, but I’d like to take this time to praise some of my favorite moments of scripted television from 2008.

1. Mad Men 2.7: “The Gold Violin”

The other best of ’08 lists I’ve been reading have been heaping their praise on “Flight 1” and “Meditations on an Emergency,” season two’s opening and closing episodes, respectively, but “The Gold Violin” is definitely my favorite episode from season two. This episode was the most magical, literary hour of television all year, utilizing the surprisingly talented Ken Cosgrove’s unpublished short story “The Gold Violin” as a framing device for all of the characters. The violin itself is “perfect in every way, except it can’t make music,” and I think that’s an apt metaphor for many of the things that happen in this episode. Kitty and Sal’s marriage is perfect in every way. They’re best friends. They get along grand, but Sal doesn’t love her romantically and he never will. (Because he is a gay man with a beard, in case you were confused.) Don Draper’s marriage appears perfect in every way, only it is absolutely not working. And every symbol of power and status he achieves somehow becomes imperfect, like the brand new Caddy Betty Draper throws up in when she finds out that Don had been cheating on her with Bobby Barrett. There’s Joan, who is beautiful, curvy, smart and powerful – the perfect woman for a rapidly changing world, except she doesn’t have love and sees the new model of the secretary as a threat to her power and status, especially when that girl endears herself to Joan’s ex.

This is one of Dyna Moes Mad Men illustrations, spawned from a Christmas card she created for cast member Rich Somner. Click through this to visit her Flicker page where you can buy this and other nifty Mad Men prints.

This is one of Dyna Moe's Mad Men illustrations, spawned from a Christmas card she created for cast member Rich Somner. Click through this to visit her Flicker page where you can buy this and other nifty Mad Men prints.

Ken Cosgrove, to me, seems to be the opposite of this. He’s so imperfect. So unthinking, and yet, he’s the only person at Sterling Cooper who’s actually accepted for his artistic endeavors outside of S-C. (Sal’s not making any money as an artist. Paul Kinsey can’t get published and he’s actually a real writer, constantly being shown up by the office sales buffoon whose main job seems to be to get women for clients.) Ken gets what he wants by not actually wanting anything or being powerful at all. I love this episode; it’s about shattering the image of the American dream, and it shows us those shattered dreams beautifully. The writing here reminds me a bit of O. Henry and Fitzgerald, and I could watch it for its subtlety and intellect more than any other Mad Men episode. Watch it again and I think you’ll start to appreciate the perfection that is this episode.

2. Lost 4.5: “The Constant”

Best episode of Lost. Ever. Further playing off the show’s intense mythology built upon pre-existing literary and philosophical texts, this episode takes Desmond David Hume and turns him into Billy Pilgrim, making him unstuck in time. And what’s the only thing we have to hold onto when we come unstuck in time? Love. There is no greater Lost moment than when Des makes his call to Penny at the end of this episode, realizing that it is she who is his constant, the one thing that kept him alive on his Odyssean journey to find her that got him trapped on Lost island with the other castaways. That moment is revelatory, breathtaking and heartbreaking all at once.

3. How I Met Your Mother 4.7: “Not a Father’s Day”

Drunk Baby Lily. That’s all I have to say. This is Alyson Hannigan’s finest comedic work on this show to date in an episode that proves the almighty power of a tiny baby sock.

4. Gossip Girl 2.3: “The Dark Night”

I had to pick this one, because it’s the episode that turned me into a Gossip Girl fan. It’s rare to see a teen soap have such beautiful production design and so many well composed shots, but I have to give complete artistic props to the Gossip Girl team for creating the gorgeous lighting in Blair’s bedroom for the scene in which Chuck seduces her in the dark. The image of him kissing her neck in her yellow Phillip Lim dress reminds me of early 19th century portraiture, but I’ve never seen anything more beautiful than the way it’s achieved on GG. Blair and Chuck forevah.

To quote Paris Hilton, thats hot.

To quote Paris Hilton, that's hot.

5. Pushing Daisies 2.3: “Bad Habits”

This episode certainly doesn’t have the whimsy and color and fun that so many episodes have. And Chuck was in a nun’s outfit the whole time, so there weren’t any fun costumes. But, this was the first episode where Olive got to be a part of the mystery and the location of the mystery forced alive again Chuck to have a small existential crisis about her post-existence. When she sits in the church next to Ned and quietly utters, “I am a person with no past and no future because of what I am,” my heart broke a little bit. Sometimes, Pushing Daisies makes me cry for sweetness, like how I can’t get through the popcorn tossing scene in Tim Burton’s Big Fish (or even think about it) without welling up in tears, but this episode, Pushing Daises made me cry because I realized how sad life must be to be alive again just at the moment Chuck did. This was a beautiful, thematic episode that belongs right next to the better episodes of Wonderfalls and Dead Like Me in the Bryan Fuller canon.

6. Lipstick Jungle 2.8: “Chapter 15: Sisterhood of the Traveling Prada”

Unlike Sex & the City, the ladies of LJ are best when they’re taken out of their element. At Christine Ebersole’s health spa in upstate New York, Wendy takes time to contemplate her recent devastating firing from Parador Pictures and figure out just how to get back in the movie-making saddle, Victory finds out the hard way about Joe’s almost-proposal and finally stands up to her friends about their overprotective nature before deciding that she needs to make amends with Joe and Nico wonders what it would be like to buy the spa and retire from big city publishing altogether. Being outside the city allows each of the ladies to realize something about themselves: Wendy finds her drive again; Victory realizes that she loves Joe, exclaiming to the stars the rallying cry that she would have said yes; and Nico realizes that she and Kirby really are at different places in their lives. For all the joy and self-discovery and female friendship, there is no better moment on this episode or the series as a whole as when Victory, hoping to make amends with Joe and ride home with him to Manhattan, gets handed an envelope with the papers to return her business to her and is left on the side of the road to watch Joe’s limo pull away without her. Thank God, Nico and Wendy stole Joe’s scotch. Free, expensive scotch is necessary after a moment like that.

7. Fringe 1.8: “The Equation”

This was the first in a string of truly great episodes leading up to the winter break, and I chose it for this list because I found it to be not only important story-wise, but also very atmospheric in its storytelling. I loved everything with Joanne Ostler and her underground music lair full of VR equipment, all of which lent a very X-Filesish atmosphere to the episode. But the best part of this episode, hands down, is Walter’s voluntary trip back to the loony bin to get information out of Dashell Kim. Walter risks his life and his mental health to help the cause, and you can see him die a little bit inside, radiating fear, when he enters the doors of St. Claire’s. John Noble’s best performance to date is this episode, showing that the odd root-beer loving mad scientist is all too human inside.

8. House 4.14/4.15: “House’s Head/Wilson’s Heart”

Not only were these episode’s cool from an aesthetic point of view, they were also a great two-part arc in which an amnesia-stricken House must try to figure out the missing person he was riding the bus with when it crashed. When that person turns out to be Amber, Wilson’s girlfriend, the new team races to save her, only to find that she had been taking too many painkillers and cold medications prior to the crash which weakened her to the point where she couldn’t be saved. For a minor character, Amber a.k.a. Cutthroat Bitch was a major force on house. Anne Dudek imbued this role with so much power that the loss of her from the House universe was devastating. I cried, and House is not a show that demands any emotional attention from me. (Damn your puppy dog face, Bobby Sean, for forcing tears out of me!)

9. 30 Rock 2.14: “Sandwich Day”

This episode set up Jack Donaghey’s downfall, establishing a great character arc of him in the coming episodes, as well as lots of Will Arnett. Also, nobody cheats Liz Lemon out of a teamster sandwich. Nobody.

10. Chuck 2.7: “Chuck vs. the Fat Lady”

Lots of fun puzzles, lots of fun bonding between Chuck and Jill and lots of disappointment at the episode’s end when we realize that Jill has been playing Chuck all along and that the poor dude will never get to be happy. Chuck’s such a likable guy, and it’s a shame that he will seemingly never be able to have a normal life again. Also, Casey can hit a high C. That’s just a good fact to know.

The Wife:

Due to Thanksgiving last week, I decided to table a write up on Pushing Daisies until I’d seen this weeks’ installment so I’d actually have something to write about beyond that cliffhanger at the end. “Robbing Hood” involved a really lame mystery involving the death a bajillionare with a floozy trophy wife (who seemed so incredibly out of place in the PD universe, for some reason) and a group of charity bell ringers who moonlight as modern-day Robin Hoods, skimming some of the wealth of the rich off the top to benefit those less fortunate.

The only worthwhile thing about the Robin Hood characters’ potential involvement in the mystery plot came to fruition when Ned decided to use the Aunts’ home as a set-up for a robbery. This was the first time we’ve ever seen the Aunts involved in one of the investigations, and Lily is, of course, quick to grab the shotgun, as she is none too pleased to see her home invaded. Chuck uses the robbery as a means to get into her old bedroom, which has been converted to a cheese room, in order to get some of her father’s things to help them figure out just what Dwight Dixon is up to.

How dare you try to fuck my sister and steal my dead daughters dead fathers watch!

How dare you try to fuck my sister and steal my dead daughter's dead father's watch!

Dwight Dixon, having dug up Chuck’s grave and found no body, somehow has Charles Charles’ watch, which Lily finds to be greatly unjust and she storms over to Dixon’s hotel apartment to steal back the watch he stole from her daughter’s cold dead hands just as Chuck and Ned head out to disinter one Charles Charles and wake him from his 20-year dirt nap to find out what’s up with Dwight Dixon.

“Comfort Food” picked up where that cliffhanger left off, which Chuck and Ned waking Charles Charles for his one minute reanimation, only to see Chuck trick Ned into keeping her father undead for much, much longer by telling Mr. Charles to don her glove and pretend to be dead again when Ned touches his hand.

From there, Ned declares an “emotional snow day” wherein he offers to close down The Pie Hole to help Chuck sort through any residual emotions she may be having from seeing her father again for 60 seconds. She ensures him that she doesn’t need it and that she’d rather stay and work while he goes to help Olive compete in her favorite biannual event, a comfort food cook-off.

I look like a Pie Gondalier in this outfit.

I look like a Pie Gondalier in this outfit.

So Ned heads off to help Olive at the cook-off, entering a world of costumes, comfort foods and festive food-themed hats. I was totally thrilled with the world of the cook-off, as it was filled to the brim of Ned’s boating hat with everything I love about Daisies’ design. I loved Olive’s cute little pie-festooned fascinator, Ned’s smart boating hat, their matching striped vests, the brilliant custom-colored tangerine Kitchen Aid artisan stand mixers peeking out from the background. Mostly, though, I loved the appearance of Muffin Buffalo as The Pie Hole’s biggest rival at the cook-off. For those who don’t love Bryan Fuller as much as I do, Muffin Buffalo is the name of the muffin company on Wonderfalls that is run by Jaye’s trailer neighbor, Mariane Marie Beetle, who hasn’t been getting her disability checks. She’s played by Beth Grant, and the actress reprises the role in this episode of Daisies. Clearly, thanks to Jaye’s help, Mariane Marie was able to get her disability checks and get her life and business back on track. In fact, things seem to be going so well for her that she can afford to bake her muffins at comfort food cook-offs and don a jaunty Little Bo Peep outfit replete with a buffalo peeking out of her bonnet.

Chuck, meanwhile, has taken her dearly departed dad out of the grave and dragged him home with her. She starts to feel guilty about the life she knows she selfishly took in order to prolong her afterlife with her dad, who thinks he might be a zombie (“I’m not going to start craving human flesh, am I?”), which I think officially answers a question my friend Drew asked the other week. Indeed, Chuck is technically a zombie. Her conscience heavy, Chuck begs Emerson to help her find the body of the person in the graveyard that Ned killed by didn’t know he killed.

“Don’t you peck at me, woman. That’s the peck of cahoots, which are most definitely not in.” — Emerson Cod

At the graveyard, they discover the body of one rakish and dead Dwight Dixon, about whom Charles Charles had no nice things to say. Chuck wonders why he had been in the graveyard in the first place, and Emerson discovers that Dwight had a shot lined up to kill Chuck and Ned when he saw her at the gravesite, assuming that she was planning to return Charles Charles’ watch to his final resting place. But then, seeing his old army buddy rise from the dead, scared the bejesus out of him and before he could take a minute to process what was happening before his eyes, he took Charles Charles’ place in the afterlife.

Chuck and Emerson bury Dwight’s body and attempt to give him a proper funeral at the urging of Chuck’s extremely guilty conscience, which feels so terrible about Dwight’s accidental death that she imagines a re-animated Dwight talking to her up until the moment the dirt covers his face. Lily shows up at the graveyard, gun in hand, and Emerson manages to succeed at keeping Chuck’s cover.

“Olive, you’re cooking with hate.” — Ned

Mariane Marie’s presence at the cook-off antagonizes Olive so much that she becomes determined to win. That is, until one chicken magnate Colonel Likken is found dead, dipped in his own deep fryer.

“At least the colonel left this world frying.” – Olive

The Colonel’s wife assumes that he had a heart attack (one of many) and fell into the deep fryer. Her only concern is that Colonel Likken’s secret recipe containing no less than 500 herbs and spices died with him. Hoping to help the widow Likken, Ned sneaks into the crime scene to wake the colonel, who tells Ned that he was actually murdered. He was dipped in his own batter before he was deep fried, by someone who “snuck up from behind. Stealthy like a snake. Or a yankee.” Whoever killed the colonel, it seems, also stole his secret recipe.

While trying to solve the murder, Chuck and Olive get disqualified from the event when they are caught inside the Waffle Nazi’s prep tent. I was pleased with the idea of the Waffle Nazi and the fact that his restaurant is called the Waffle Iron (with an Iron Cross for a logo), but I would have been even happier if his restaurant was called Der Waffle Haus, after the restaurant where the reapers hang out in Fuller’s Dead Like Me. (Although, I’m glad the Waffle Nazi was played by a man who I now only think of as the face of Utz Potato Chips, Patrick Fischler, Mad Men‘s Jimmy Barrett.) The Waffle Nazi reveals that he would never have killed Colonel Likken as “Herr Likken and I were set to go into business together” creating the delicious Southern comfort food known to all as chicken and waffles.

Looking back at the crime scene, Ned notices gurney tracks in the batter surrounding Colonel Likken’s body and realizes that the only person who could have killed him was Leo Burns, the scooter-riding cook-off organizer.

“I ride a scooter. What kind of killer could I possibly be?” — Leo Burns

The facts were these: Leo was once a thin man who, when faced with hard times, ate a bucket of Colonel Likken’s delicious chicken and became hooked. He then became a very morbidly obese man out to revenge the man he blamed for his fatness, stealing the secret recipe that caused him to eat his way to obesity. Once Leo is arrested, his disqualifications are discontinued and Olive and Ned can once again compete for top prize. Olive cleverly brought along one cold pie just in case someone should sabotage their oven, ruining their chances of winning. She races Mariane Marie to the table in the last thirty seconds of competition and just beats her there to get her icebox lemon pie in on time, a pie which ultimately took first place.

Olive, thrilled at finally winning and receiving much respect and admiration from Ned, bursts into a sad rendition of “Eternal Flame,” only to have Ned once again leave her to check on Chuck, just as he always will. He drops by the Aunts house to ask if they’ve seen Dwight Dixon and Lily notices someone stirring in Ned’s old house across the street. When Ned goes to investigate, he finds Chuck . . . and her zombie dad, waiting for him.

Overall, I feel like this was a pretty abrupt end to the Dwight Dixon storyline, a character we never really learned all that much about. But then again, this is not the first time Daisies has done this. I expected more Dilly Balsam from the first season, and also more of Raul Esparza’s herbalist character, but it seems those two characters are never to return. Much like Dwight Dixon. However, I am perfectly happy with the sacrifice of that arc in favor of this Charles Charles arc. It’s much more informative of the kind of person undead Chuck has become and, I hope, will bring us back to the levels of poignancy found in “Bad Habits.”

While I can’t say that Chuck was up to her usual levels of finery in either of these episodes, I would like to note something very clever on the part of the wardrobe department that other people might not have noticed. There was a nice visual link between the two very separate stories tonight: one featured Muffin Buffalo, while in the other, Chuck donned a Buffalo plaid jacket. Very clever.