Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Year in Culture: 2008 Edition

I don't know if 2008 was a particularly dismal year artistically or if 2007 just happened to be a brilliant one, but either way this year felt like a letdown compared to some of the achievements that came before. Nonetheless, there were high points and I've attempted to recount most of them here. Please see the following links for my thoughts on the year in culture:

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Top Ten Films of 2008

I had a much harder time putting together my top ten movies list than my other lists, mostly because there was no movie I wanted to place in the top spots -- there were a fair number of good movies that came out in 2008, but no great ones. What follows is my 10 best of what I saw this year*:

10) The Dark Knight -
If you thought summer movies were supposed to be fun, director Christopher Nolan and his impressive cast and crew made sure to relieve you of that impression. The Dark Knight is an incredibly dark, deeply pessimistic and just plain depressing movie -- and also one of the most enthralling and suspenseful comic book films of all time. It has its fair share of flaws -- Harvey Dent's evolution is too rushed, the Joker's boat stunt is hackneyed, and the weird sonar thing at the end doesn't make any logical or political sense -- but kudos to Nolan for attempting to make a superhero film that tackles such thorny issues as the consequences of escalation, the uncompromising nature of terrorism driven by nihilism, and the importance of symbols in driving political change. Heath Ledger and Aaron Eckhart, as the Joker and Harvey Dent respectively, deliver performances of such power and conviction that my heart was in my throat whenever they were on the screen.

9) Tell No One -
This French thriller offers a maze of twists and turns, all centering on the question of whether the murdered wife of a Parisian doctor is in fact dead. It makes for surprisingly gripping entertainment, even if it is a relatively simple pleasure. Excellent performances by Francois Cluzet and Kristen Scott-Thomas lift Tell No One above the standard genre conventions.

8) Rachel Getting Married -
Jonathan Demme's domestic drama about a family reuniting for a wedding is an intimate and genuine depiction of a once close clan filled with troubled characters. Demme's direction makes joyous and loving work of a sometimes contrived script. Anne Hathaway and Marjorie Dewitt, as the sisters at the heart of the story -- one a drug-addicted, self-involved trainwreck, the other an insecure bride-to-be -- are a marvelous twosome, delivering heartfelt performances of touching honesty.

7) Man on Wire -

The best documentary of the year features a story more unbelievable than most Hollywood films. In 1974, Frenchman Philippe Petit illegally walked a tightrope connecting New York's World Trade Center towers. The tale of how he did it, the colorful cast of characters that helped him along the way, and the ramifications of his act are all joyfully captured in this poetic film.

6) Wendy and Lucy -
The relationship alluded to in the title of Kelly Reichardt's beautifully observed film is between Wendy (Michelle Williams), a young woman making her way to Alaska to find work, and her dog Lucy. When Wendy's car breaks down in Oregon, we witness the beginning of a series of obstacles, all believable, that stand in the way of her final destination. Reichardt's film is a portrait of a woman living on the margins, where small setbacks can doom one to misery and where whatever social safety net used to exist no longer serves any purpose. Makes you hope this Obama fellow can help a girl like Wendy out.

5) Happy-Go-Lucky -
Director Mike Leigh is not known for making light movies, so there's a sense of dread that hangs over the proceedings of Happy-Go-Lucky even as the main character Poppy (played by a vivacious Sally Hawkins) exudes her positive attitude through the most hostile of situations. That she's as cheery and effervescent at the end of the movie as she is at the beginning is all the more astonishing given the touching and hilarious events that occur along the way. Chances are, you'll end the movie feeling just as happy.

4) The Wrestler -
Darren Aronofsky's portrait of an aging wrestler past his prime takes a rather predictable story and imbues it with a rawness and sincerity that makes the whole thing feel authentic. As Ram Robinson, Mickey Rourke gives the performance of the year, fully committing himself to both the tragedy of Ram's personal life and his addiction to the the ring.

3) Milk -
The nature of the biopic genre is very limiting -- it's nearly impossible to make a truly great movie when the contours of the plot are so readily apparent and predetermined. Milk is not immune to those limitations, but it does a better job than most biopics at capturing a historical figure at the height of his significance. Sean Penn plays slain gay activist Harvey Milk with such incandescent joy and steely determination that you can't help but get involved in the local political minutiae, like ballot initiatives and city council races, that defined Milk's life's work. By giving the audience a seat at the table of all those organizing meetings, director Gus Van Sant and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black choose to celebrate rather than gloss over the procedural hard work that is required to define and secure civil rights.

2) Wall-E -
Pixar's latest and greatest masterpiece, Wall-E is better than all that came before by virtue of the film's beautiful, remarkable, and wordless first half hour. In those thirty minutes, the audience is treated to a Buster Keaton comedy by way of Mad Max, a post-apocalyptic silent love story between two very affecting robots. The rest of the film is very satisfying, but those first thirty minutes were the purest expression of great cinema produced this year.

1) 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days -
This Romanian film about abortion is bracing and heartbreaking, a grim tale of two friends who find themselves struggling for freedom in Communist-era Romania. 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days was released in the US in the spring, but its has remained with me throughout the year. It is a tough, honest, and sometimes brutal work that demonstrates how resourceful and strong people can be even in the most punishing of environments. No other film that came out this year was so unforgettable.

*Note: I still haven't had the chance to see Che, The Class, or Waltz With Bashir, films that have received wide acclaim. Special thanks to my friend Ben Kenigsberg, film critic at Time Out Chicago, who made it possible for me to see a number of films I wouldn't have had the chance to otherwise. Please check out his top 10 list.

The Top Ten Television Shows of 2008

The writer's strike had a significant, adverse impact on this year's television season, resulting in weaker seasons of existing shows and no new series worth paying any attention to. Assuming the actor's strike doesn't happen, it'll be nice to have a return to normal production schedules and, hopefully, higher quality television. What follows are my few favorite series of 2008:

10) Chuck -

Created by TV wunderkind Josh Schwartz, the man behind The OC and Gossip Girl, Chuck has all the silliness and self-awareness we've come to expect from a Schwartz production without the heavy-handed melodrama. It's not a particularly revelatory or insightful show -- just a fun way to spend an hour of your time. Chuck, played marvelously by Zachary Levi, is an electronics store employee who inadvertently gets drafted into the CIA thanks to a computer implanted in his head. Minimum wage worker by day, spy by night -- Schwartz and Co. mine the premise for lots of laughs and enjoyable action sequences, but it's done with a sweetness and heart that keeps you hooked.

9) The New Adventures of Old Christine -

Now in its third season, this very funny show about a single mother and the family of characters that surrounds her really ought to have more fans. As the self-involved, neurotic, and altogether hilarious title character, Julia Louis-Dreyfus continues to demonstrate that she's one of the most talented comediennes working today. She gets strong support from Wanda Sykes, Hamish Linklater, and Clark Gregg as her best friend, layabout brother, and ex-husband respectively.

8) How I Met Your Mother -

I continue to believe that no show captures what it's like to be a young professional in Manhattan better than this CBS sitcom. It's been rather uneven as of late, but at its best HIMYM transcends sitcom conventions with unique narrative structures and insightful humor about living in New York. With Jason Segal, Alyson Hannigan, and the pitch perfect Neil Patrick Harris, it also has the most talented young comedic cast on TV.

7) Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog -

Not quite a television show, this side project by Buffy creator Josh Whedon was produced during the writer's strike and premiered to acclaim on the internet before heading to DVD. With an incredibly unique conceit -- an aspiring super-villain who also maintains a video blog is secretly pining for a woman who becomes the girlfriend of his archnemesis -- this musical production was funny, touching, and a welcome respite from the unoriginal reality programming the networks tossed at us during the strike.

6) The Office -

This season, The Office humanized Michael by introducing (and then unfairly withdrawing) the captivating Amy Ryan as Holly, one of the few people who could tolerate Michael's stupid jokes and inappropriate behavior and still love him anyway. The show also demonstrated that it's possible to ring entertainment out of Jim and Pam's relationship, even without the "will they or won't they" tension that was central to the series' earlier seasons.

Saturday Night Live -

The show is always stronger during an election season, but even by those standards it had an impressive year. Driven by Tina Fey's great impersonation of Sarah Palin, SNL took its political comedy in numerous directions and more often than not hit the mark. It also created a few hilarious digital shorts along the way. Special props to Fred Armisen and Kristen Wiig, who always seem responsible for the funniest non-political sketches.

4) 30 Rock -

After deservedly winning multiple Emmys this year, it would have been understandable if 30 Rock took a break from being the best comedy on network television. Instead, the show has been firing on all cylinders this year, most notably in the hilarious "Reunion" episode above. With Tina Fey coming into her own as a comedic actress and Alec Baldwin continually raising the stakes with his remarkable performance as Jack Donaghy, 30 Rock could stand to lose some of the slew of guest stars they keep parading on the show. Honestly, who needs real celebrities when you have characters as delightfully skewed as Kathy Geiss?

3) Lost -

At the end of its third season, the creators of Lost, a show that has always been about time and destiny, made the rather bold decision to start using flash-forwards in addition to the flashbacks that had always added mystery and intrigue to its wide cast of characters. That decision has singlehandedly rejuvenated the island drama, adding layers of complication to an already labyrinthine story. "The Constant," the episode excerpted above, was a good encapsulation of all that Lost does well: it combined island mythology with well-earned character development to produce one of the most heartrending moments of the season.

2) Mad Men -

I liked the first season of Mad Men just fine, but felt it wore its 50s period stereotypes on its sleeve and forced its characters into directions that did not always feel organic. But now that the first season's exposition is all out of the way, the show has matured into a much more interesting, multi-layered study of diverse characters in varied positions of social and personal entrapment. Much of this season focused on the challenges facing the women of Mad Men -- the ambitious copy writer Peggy, the frustrated housewife Betty Draper, the stifled secretary Joan -- while the male characters pursued their selfish personal fantasies (e.g., Don's lark in California, Roger's rash engagement to Jane). And yet, when all was said and done, they all ended up in the same lonely, unhappy place. It was a thrilling and poignant journey to witness.

1) The Wire -

I will be the first to admit that the last season of this great HBO drama was the weakest one of the show's five seasons, but it was still better than anything else on TV. Yes, the journalism plot was too simple and the serial-killer story was fairly unbelievable, but it didn't matter -- at the end of the day, the universe of The Wire, with its venal city officials, violent corner kids, damaged cops, and showboating politicians, was as fully-realized as ever. Creator David Simon and his collaborators did the unimaginable -- they gave us a brilliant show that was less about individual characters and their personal demons (e.g., The Sopranos or Mad Man) and more about the institutions that surround those characters and the futility of railing against a society where the decks are stacked against change. In doing so, they also penned an honest ode to Baltimore, the city at the heart of it all. I am going to greatly miss this show, the best television series in the history of the medium.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Best Albums of 2008

Frankly, I thought 2008 paled in comparison to 2007 music-wise -- any one of my top 5 albums from last year would likely have topped this year's list. Still, disappointing as the year was, there were some gems. Below are my 25 favorite albums from 2008:

25) Hercules and Love Affair - Hercules and Love Affair
The debut album from this New York electronic outfit features some of the best dance tracks of the year with propulsive beats that avoid falling into monotony or kitsch as many dance/techno tracks do. Vocals by Antony of Antony & the Johnsons fame elevated what could have been a typical dance record to a new realm.
Watch Hercules and Love Affair - "Blind":

24) Aimee Mann - @#%&*! Smilers
Aimee Mann is not a particularly versatile artist -- she's been refining the same sound for most of her career -- but she's a very talented songstress, as this album proved once again. She has a unique ability to take songs filled with melancholy and merge them with the sunny pop of her California home.
Watch Aimee
Mann - "Freeway":

23) MGMT - Oracular Spectacular
MGMT blasted onto the music scene in early 2008 and the best songs off their debut album stuck around throughout the year. This New York-based duo have undeniably eclectic tastes -- the best tracks fall somewhere between between psychedelia and prog-rock, two genres I normally despise. And yet there's no denying how much fun they are to listen to.

Watch MGMT - "Time to Pretend":

22) Friendly Fires - Friendly Fires
This British trio's debut album is short and sweet, filled with pulsing pop songs that each clock
in under four minutes. If only more new bands were so efficient.
Watch Friendly Fires - "Jump in the Pool":

21) The Dodos - Visiter
A beautiful, utterly strange album filled with intricate drum solos and other acoustic pleasures, the
sophomore album from this Bay Area band constantly surprises. It's a bit longer than it needs to be, but that's a small price to pay for the innovative pop experiments these guys pull off.
Watch The Dodos - "Fools":

20) French Kicks - Swimming
The Walkmen are the New York band everyone claims had a resurgent 2008, but for my money the French Kicks outdid their big city counterparts in every meaningful way. Finding a more mature sound, Swimming was filled with lush harmonies and arrangements that recalled and improved upon the band's earlier promise.
Listen to French Kicks - "Abandon"

19) The Hold Steady - Stay Positive
I actually thought Stay Positive was a bit of a letdown following the band's stellar Boys and Girls in America from a couple years ago, but I'm fully on-board with the more melodic direction that Craig Finn has decided take the group. Now the band's melodies are nearly as sophisticated as the lyrics Finn is renowned for.
Watch The Hold Steady - "Stay Positive":

18) Randy Newman - Harps & Angels
For people who primarily know Randy Newman for his cutesy scores in Pixar movies, it's worth noting that Newman also happens to be a fantastic solo artist. But what's truly surprising is that a man who has been in the business for so long can still put out an album as funny, vibrant, and touching as this one.
Listen to Randy Newman - "Harps and Angels":

17) Beck - Modern Guilt
The combination of Beck Hansen with producer Danger Mouse, two of the more innovative players in rock music, was bound to deliver interesting results. Fortunately, the album that emerged, while darker and less consistent than much of Beck's previous works, is a short burst of his typical energy.
Watch Beck - "Gamma Ray"

16) She & Him - Volume One
Zooey Deschanel has always been an eminently watchable actress, and it turns out that she's got quite the set of pipes on her on as well. This folky pop record she made with M. Ward was one of the better surprises of the year, filled with sprightly originals and well-made covers.
Watch She & Him - "Why Do You Let Me Stay Here":

15) Taylor Swift - Fearless
I don't really follow the country music scene, so I had no idea who Taylor Swift was when Sasha Frere-Jones first wrote about her in the New Yorker. The critics are right though -- this 18 year old country star is a preternaturally gifted singer and songwriter and Fearless, her sophomore album, suggests she's going to be country's biggest crossover star for some time to come.
Listen to Taylor Swift - "You Belong With Me":

14) Kanye West - 808s & Heartbreak
Despite the use of AutoTune on most of the the tracks, the latest Kanye album is a lower key and less showy affair than his earlier albums. Coming off a year of personal tragedy, West trades in his typical braggadocio for songs that are almost doleful in nature. Who knew a sympathetic and heartbroken Kanye would be so fascinating?
Watch Kanye West - "Love Lockdown":

13) Wolf Parade - At Mount Zoomer
This Canadian rock band's sophomore effort never reaches the heights of their dazzling debut album, but the patented Wolf Parade energy and inventiveness are still on display. To top it off, they also put on the best live show I saw this year.
Listen to Wolf Parade - "Language City":

12) Los Campesinos! - Hold On Now, Youngster...
This Welsh band's debut LP is a sugar-infused rush of energy, each track emanating infectious joy. I thought the first album they made this year -- they were prolific enough to produce two -- was the stronger of the pair, with addictive hooks and clever lyrics in every song.
Watch Los Campesinos! - "Death to Los Campesinos!"

11) Girl Talk - Feed the Animals
Girl Talk, the stage name of musician Greg Gillis, continues to make utterly original music from mashed-up samples of artists as wide-ranging as Roy Orbison to Jay-Z. His fourth album, which is available at a price you choose, is a non-stop thrill ride from beginning to end.
Listen to Girl Talk - "Set It Off":

10) Deerhunter - Microcastle
Recorded over the course of a week, this album from Georgia's Deerhunter is wonderfully mysterious and ethereal. With songs that shift constantly between hypnotic ambient noise and more purpose-driven rock, this was one of the most innovative and compelling albums of the year.
Listen to Deerhunter - "Nothing Ever Happened":

9) The Black Keys - Attack & Release
The most underrated album of the year, Attack & Release found the blues rock band from Ohio collaborating with Danger Mouse to create their most accomplished and satisfying record to date. Some people may miss the band's rawer early sound, but I think a little polish is just what they needed.
Listen to The Black Keys - "I Got Mine"

8) Islands - Arm's Way
The sophomore album from this young Montreal-based band was an ambitious attempt at producing a richer, more cohesive work than anything the band had done before. Songs like "Creeper" and "Arms Way" are proof that they succeeded on those terms and then some.
Watch Islands - "Creeper"

7) Lil Wayne - Tha Carter III
Hands down the best hip-hop album of the year. After churning out an astonishing number of bootlegs in anticipation of this album, Lil Wayne proves that he is better at seemingly off-the-cuff wordplay than anyone else in the rap game. He's also raunchy as hell, but that's just part of his charm.
Watch Lil Wayne - "Lollipop"

6) Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend
My fellow Columbia alums made a magnificent first album, combining genres spanning everything from post-punk to afropop. Sure, the too clever lyrics and the preppy attitudes can be cloying, but the melodies are mesmerizing and addictive.
Watch Vampire Weekend - "A-Punk"

5) Cut Copy - In Ghost Colours
Cut Copy's last album, Bright Like Neon Love, is one of my favorite albums of the past few years, so I was primed to be disappointed by this follow-up effort. Turns out I had no reason to worry -- while not quite in the category of their debut, Cut Copy's sophomore album is a heart-pounding tour through 80s-style synth hooks and irresistible beats. It's like a really good New Order album updated for the new millennium.
Watch Cut Copy - "Hearts on Fire"

4) Santogold - Santogold
The year's most crowd-pleasing album, this debut from Philadelphia's Santi White features the catchiest songs of 2008 like "L.E.S. Artistes," "Lights Out," and "I'm a Lady." With her eclectic tastes and immense talent, this is probably just the beginning of an endless supply of magical Santogold numbers.
Watch Santogold - "Lights Out"

3) Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago
Bon Iver, also known as Wisconsin native Justin Vernon, made the best solo album to come out this year. With subtle lyrics and enchanting melodies, his debut effort was an absolutely stunning demonstration of what one can accomplish with a simple rhythm guitar and startlingly soulful vocals.
Listen to Bon Iver - "Skinny Love":

2) TV on the Radio - Dear Science
New York's TV on the Radio have always been critical favorites because of their brainy, experimental music. But it turns out their best album is their most accessible one to date, one where all the wild experiments produce immensely satisfying outcomes. With all the tags that get thrown their way -- how does a band sound "post-racial" anyway? -- it's becoming impossible to define TV on the Radio as anything but just plain good.
Watch TV on the Radio - "Dancing Choose"

1) Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes
Can an album that feels like a throwback still seem utterly original? Seattle's Fleet Foxes proved that it can, for their debut is about as old-fashioned as you can get -- choral harmonies, acoustic instruments, lyrics about nature -- and yet felt fresher and more alive than anything else that came out this year. Count the fabulous Sun Giant EP they delivered in the spring and Fleet Foxes made more gorgeous music in 2008 than anyone else.
Watch Fleet Foxes - "White Winter Hymnal"

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Notable Songs of 2008

As with last year's list, I've avoided choosing any songs from my best albums list since it seems fairly obvious that most of the best songs of the year would come from those artists. Instead, here are 10 songs from artists whose LPs couldn't quite match the brilliance of these tracks.

The Long Blondes - "Guilt"
The Long Blondes produced the best album of their short-lived career this year and then promptly split up. It's too bad, because songs like this one suggest they had a future worth paying attention to.

Elbow - "Grounds for Divorce"
This year's Mercury Prize winners from Britain made the catchiest rock song of the year -- chances are you heard it in the background of a ton of commercials and the trailer for Burn After Reading.

Estelle feat. Kanye West - "American Boy"
R&B artists seem to have mastered the art of the duet, as this song from British songstress Estelle proves. On his own, Kanye West can seem obnoxious and self-involved. Paired with the right singer, though, and he becomes almost a gentleman.

7) Yelle - "Ce Jeu"
Yes, this song is in French. No, I have no idea what she is singing. Fortunately, none of that matters.

Blitzen Trapper - "Furr"
This Portland-based band folk band is difficult to classify, mostly because they tend to take their genre eclecticism to levels of quirkiness they can't sustain. Once in a while, though, they produce songs that are both remarkably pretty and deeply weird, like this one about a man who turns into a beast.

5) Lykke Li - "Little Bit"
I don't know what it is about the Swedish, but they're undeniably the best nationality for crafting quirky pop songs (see #2 below). Lykke Li's first album, Youth Novels, was uneven but it had some very enjoyable melodies, the strongest of which was this lovely song.

Ben Folds feat. Regina Spektor - "You Don't Know Me"
When you think about it, Ben Folds and Regina Spektor make an obvious duo -- they're the perfect combination of overly-clever and overly-precious. Put it together and you get just the right balance in this charming duet.

3) Liam Finn - "Second Chance"
I saw Liam Finn perform this song on Letterman and couldn't get the haunting beat out of my head. Finn is a one-man band -- he writes all the songs and plays most of the instruments himself. How he manages to perform all the tasks required for this rocking tour de force is beyond me, but it makes the end product all the more amazing.

Marching Band - "Gorgeous Behavior"
Another pop marvel from Sweden, this song by Marching Band is from the indie duo's debut album. As the title suggests, they've crafted a gorgeous melody with a surprisingly robust sound for two-person band.

1) Passion Pit - "Sleepyhead"
Boston's Passion Pit produced one of the best EP's of the year, filled with danceable electronic tunes. "Sleepyhead" was the strongest song on it, an incredibly catchy, quirky, and infectious jam. It's practically impossible to avoid bopping your head as it plays.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Best TV Shows of 2007

To be honest, there weren't a lot of great shows introduced this year. Still, there were a few new standouts, and some great seasons of returning shows:

10)Aliens in America - The conceit of this show, about a foreign exchange student from Pakistan, is a recipe for cliches about American xenophobia. Fortunately, there's a lot of heart on display in Aliens in America, and while it may be a bit too cute for its own good at times, it's also surprisingly smart and funny when dealing with the culture clash and general open-mindedness of the American people.

9) Big Love - This year, the HBO polygamist saga made the transition from gimmicky drama with occasional moments of brilliance to captivating series about a tension-filled family that happens to practice polygamy. Superb performances from Jeanne Tripplehorn, Ginnifer Goodwin and Chloe Sevigny helped propel this year's storylines to a higher level.

8) Top Chef - This Project Runway-esque reality series really came into its own this season, with some very talented and compelling contestants, most of all eventual winner Hung. Unlike many of its contestants, the show succeeded on its truly creative challenges. Top Chef has slowly slid itself into the position of best reality series on television.

7) The Sopranos - Count me as one of those viewers who thought the finale worked. More than that, though, the series experienced a comeback of sorts with its final 6 episodes, from the masterful brawl between Bobby and Tony at the lake house to AJ's suicide attempt. The Sopranos may have gone out on a lower note than it entered, but it was still amazing television.

6) Planet Earth - The amazing footage that appeared on this series of animals caught in their natural environments singlehandedly forced me to go out and buy an HDTV.

5) Pushing Daisies - Yes, this show can be too whimsical for its own good. But it has also managed to create an entirely believable universe of its own, where corpses are brought to life with the touch of a fingertip and the streets are decorated with more bright colors than a candy store. It's an impressive visual accomplishment and a surprisingly addictive television series.

4) Mad Men - Leaving aside the fact that one of the primary plot points was a direct rip-off of the Armen Tanzarian storyline from The Simpsons, the first original series from AMC was filled with gorgeous images, well-crafted character arcs, and touching performances. Some of the plot turns may have been a bit too forced, but the execution was impeccable and the acting first rate.

3) Friday Night Lights - This show makes the list on the merits of its incredible first season. There has been an undeniable decline in its second season, but that's no reason to avoid this pitch-perfect series about a small Texas town that finds its soul in high school football. Connie Britton and Kyle Chandler make for the most realistic couple on television; after a few episodes, you too will wish you were a member of the Taylor family.

2) 30 Rock - The best comedy on network television since Arrested Development. Like that show, 30 Rock boasts an incredible cast, superb writing, and wonderfully absurd storylines. It also boasts Alec Baldwin, who singlehandedly elevates every scene he's in with his dry delivery and perfect comic timing. I'm not sure how long the ratings will allow 30 Rock to be on the air, but this series deserves all the viewers it can get.

1) Flight of the Conchords - I don't know that Flight of the Conchords is a funnier show than 30 Rock. But it's the most original and creative comedy on television, mining the humor of New Zealand's most famous comedy rock troupe to maximal effect with fantastically weird musical set-pieces and low-key, perfectly deadpan punch lines. Murray the manager (Rhys Darby) alone makes this show worth watching.