I am, I have to confess, a huge television fan. I like good drama shows like The Sopranos, Mad Men or Six Feet Under, old-fashioned sitcoms like The Golden Girls or Frasier, sophisticated comedies like The Office or trashy, camp soaps like Dynasty or Melrose Place. Last year I was the happiest man on earth when they announced the release on dvd of the original Peyton Place series from the sixties, starring among many others Dorothy Malone, Lee Grant and the very young Mia Farrow and Ryan O’Neal. And yet, it recently dawned on me that, apart from the Emmy Predictions, I had never posted an entry about television in Imitation of Life.
So I thought a good way to make up for that big omission in the blog was to write an entry about my favourite television series moments of all time. Here are my ten picks.
(SPOILER ALERT: This entry contains HUGE SPOILERS of THE SOPRANOS and SIX FEET UNDER and a scene from Twin Peaks’ pilot episode. Don’t read further if you haven’t seen the series yet. It also contains gags (no spoilers) from Ellen, The Office and Will&Grace, plus (presumably) irrelevant scenes from The Colbys, Dallas, V and Melrose Place.)
10. KEVIN BACON DANCES FOOTLOOSE, WILL&GRACE: Season 5, Episode 2
It’s probably my favourite Will&Grace episode. Kevin Bacon, of six degrees fame, appears as himself and hires Jack, who has been stalking him, as his personal assistant to track down the harasser. He mistakenly thinks Will is the stalker and they embark in a hilarious conversation in which Bacon makes fun of his awardless career by talking of his Golden Globe-nominated turn in The River Wild (‘it was special because it came from the Foreign Press’, he tells Will) and of his agelessish looks (‘you have the waist of a 14-year-old girl’). The scene reaches its climax with both of them recreating Bacon’s quasi legendary dance from 1984 Footloose. Unfortunately, I haven’t found the complete video. The clip below features the dance and some of the many celebrities who guest starred in the series, including Michael Douglas, Matt Damon, Debbie Reynolds, Demi Moore or Cher, to name just a few.
9. DIANA EATS A RAT, V: THE MINISERIES: Episode 1
Before it turned into an extraterrestrial absurdity of hairspray and male low necklines, the original V and the Final Battle miniseries were good sci-fi shows, especially because of the (far from subtle) Nazi imagery and allegory. The scene where Jane Badler (who played the villainous visitor Diana) swallows a furry rodent is etched in the memory of anyone who watched the series. It was one of those scenes everybody talked about for weeks. Jane Badler, who recently had a regular part in the Australian soap Neighbours, will play Diana again in the second season of ABC’s V reinvention.
8. DAVID BRENT’S MOTIVATIONAL SPEECH, THE OFFICE: Season 2, Episode 4.
Any five minutes randomly chosen from Rick Gervais’ comic masterpiece would have been brilliant and memorable, but I just thought of this motivational speech because it encapsulates in its seven minutes the quintessential Brent spirit in all its hilarious and excruciating shades. The end of the speech with Tina Turner’s The Best is one of the series’ highlights.
7. J.R.’S SHOOTING, DALLAS: Season 3, Final Episode.
From all my choices this is the one I recall most vaguely. I remember the reaction of my family and the anticipation of the cliffhanger resolution rather that the actual scene. The mystery was solved in the fourth episode of the next season. In America, almost 85 million viewers tuned in to watch the Who Done It episode only to discover that Sue Ellen was not so bad after all. I watched the scene in YouTube again for the research of this entry and I think the Halloween-like cinematography that placed the camera in the perspective of the killer is nothing short of brilliant for a soap opera. The Who Done It episode still holds the highest ranking for a non-final episode (and third overall) in television history.
6. KIMBERLY RIPS OFF HER WIG, MELROSE PLACE: Season 4, Episode 3.
I have to admit that this is my guilty pleasure pick. Although Heather Locklear’s Amanda has been hailed as the only reason for the series success after she became regular in Season 2, Marcia Cross’ conniving Kimberly was always my favourite character. As far as I remember Cross never got opening credits status, but appeared instead as guest star. Her character, however, brought the greatest joys to the viewers. This scene, which took place after the character was brought back from the dead, remains one of the highlights of any Melrose Place fan. It happened, incidentally, only three episodes after she blew the whole Melrose Place complex after pronouncing that classic line: ‘This is not what it seems…It’s worse’.
5. FALLON’S ALIEN ABDUCTION, THE COLBYS: Final Episode
This one makes the cut as the most over-the-top, infamous storyline in television history, only rivalled by the Moldavian massacre in Dynasty, of which the series was a spin-off. In a vain attempt to keep the series afloat, the producers came out with this extraterrestrial encounter as the second season Finale. The series was cancelled soon afterwards and the cliffhanger would ultimately be resolved (not very brilliantly) in the parent series. In a recent Dynasty cast reunion, Emma Samms, who played Fallon after Pamela Sue Martin left the series, recalls how rumours about the ridiculous storyline spread among cast members weeks before the shooting of the scene, but everybody dismissed them as a joke. Apparently the idea came from producing couple Richard and Ester Shapiro. Ester threatened to fire anyone who dared to laugh at the idea. The Dynasty reunion (available in YouTube) is worth watching just to see that Catherine Oxenberg (who played the first Amanda, before the Mirage fire) looks younger now than 25 years ago and that Joan Collins is actually bitchier than Alexis. Her disdainful comments about Pamela Sue Martin’s film career aspirations upon quitting the series are hilarious.
4. ELLEN’S COMING OUT, ELLEN: Season 4, Episode 22
The introduction of gay characters in popular culture has been (and still is) pivotal in the acceptance of homosexuality by society. Ellen was not the first series to present a gay character. From Vincent Schiavelli’s Peter Panama in 1972’s The Corner Bar to Queer as Folk, many gay characters have appeared on TV shows, among them Dynasty‘s Steve Carrington or Melrose Place’s Matt. However, Ellen was the first show that featured a gay lead character and the first time in television history that the performer and the character came out almost simultaneously. From the narrative point of view, I still think that the intercom microphone gag at the airport is a memorable comic moment. This is, moreover, my little tribute to the wonderful Laura Dern, who played Ellen’s love interest in the Puppy episode and who, as I recently discovered in a TV interview, was not offered a job for 18 months after her much publicised appearance in the show.
3. THE ENDING, SIX FEET UNDER: Series Finale
It was one of the most memorable endings to a TV series ever. Six Feet Under’s last episode built up to this poignant epilogue which, unlike other TV series like The Sopranos, chose a complete closure as way of resolution. With a family of morticians as centre of the plot, death was always a pivotal element of the series, not only through the usually brilliant openers of every episode, but also as part of the main characters. Nathaniel Fisher had died on the very first episode of the series, and so did Lisa and Nate along the way. The last six minutes of the series are a fast forward to the future in which we see the end of the rest of the family, with Sia’s Breath Me as a pairless musical background. Creator Allan Ball orchestrated the perfect ending for an unforgettable series.
2. ADRIANA’S EXECUTION, THE SOPRANOS: Season 5, Episode 12.
Characters in The Sopranos were whacked on a regular basis. However, and despite the unusual lack of explicit violence of the scene, the image of Adriana La Cerva desperately crawling away from Silvio vividly remains as one of the most powerful and brutal moments of the series. Adriana’s fate was sealed since she started her collaboration as informant with the FBI, but I always hoped for a happier resolution. Drea de Mateo deservedly won an Emmy for her portrayal of Adriana in her last season in the show, and she went on to appear in two episodes in the final instalment through Carmela’s dream sequences. Until the very last inconclusive scene of the series, I secretly hoped someone would pay for her murder, but like with so many other open-ended storylines in this most brilliantly written masterpiece, the moral ambiguity of the characters (in this case, Carmela’s) avoided a closure to Adriana’s execution’s plot.
1. LAURA PALMER’S DEATH, TWIN PEAKS: Pilot
The discovery of Laura Palmer’s body wrapped in a plastic bag is, in my opinion, the most eerily beautiful instant in the history of scripted television. I recently revisited the series only to discover that it hasn’t aged at all. Two decades after it first aired, its legacy on modern television is unquestionable. Although Sheryl Lee’s acting career never reached the heights she was first destined to, her gaunt face in that plastic bag is already an icon of modern popular culture. The clip below features some key scenes of the pilot, including the discovery of the body. The music is by Portishead and not, unfortunately the haunting original score that Angelo Baladamenti wrote for David Lynch’s series.