THIS FINAL COLUMN OF THE YEAR FINDS me in a particularly reflective mood in that it is also my last entry as the TV critic for PEOPLE. After more than six years and some 20,000 hours in front of the TV, I leave my lonely post bleary-eyed but surprisingly hopeful. Although the vast preponderance of TV programming is still designed as little more than an empty diversion, I have recently seen several encouragingly ambitious attempts in prime time to rise above mere escapism. Edgy and inventive dramas like ABC’s My So-Called Life and NYPD Blue, along with wicked satirical comedies like HBO’s The Larry Sanders Show and Comedy Central’s Absolutely Fabulous, elevate TV into art. Ken Burns’s 11-hour Civil War documentary for PBS, easily the finest program that aired during my watch, proved that substantial projects have a place on the tube as well.
I am still shocked by how much violence I saw. The bloodthirstiness of the medium is truly appalling (and misogynistic—most of the violent acts depicted are visited upon women). On the other hand, I marvel at how often TV has made me laugh, thanks to such serendipitous delights as Fox’s The Simpsons and Comedy Central’s Mystery Science Theater 3000. I like to think that you were laughing along with me. As the year and my stint in the critical crow’s nest, draw to a close, I wish you happy viewing.