• In the tradition of bootleg real-life Duff Beer, craft It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia booze, and Game of Thrones themed brews, Breaking Bad, at the threshold of its final season, has gotten its own ale! No. It is not meth flavored. (via UPROXX)
    • Oprah brings back soap operas, returning to her roots of championing for housewives and househusbands and jobless day-time TV watchers everywhere. One Life to Live and All My Children are coming to OWN. (via The AV Club)
    • Remember that MTV show Zach Stone Is Gonna Be Famous? Well it’s been cancelled. Oh, no? Never mind then. (via The Hollywood Reporter)
    • USA Network is either rewarding Psych fans creatively or really just doesn’t care anymore what they air, because they’re goin’ all choose your own adventure on our asses for a season 8 episode. (via TV by the Numbers)
    • FX is adapting Last of the Mohicans, the 1992 film based on a 1826 novel about a story taking place in 1757, for television to give us all what we’ve been clamoring for—Native Americans have been under-exploited and appropriately represented in the media for far too long and Johnny “Tonto” Depp can’t fix that all by himself. (via Vulture)
    • Lastly, I would watch Tika Sumpter (pictured beautifully above) do anything. Anything in the world. If her, Oprah, and Tyler Perry need me to continue watching Haves and Have Nots to show my dedication to Miss Sumpter, I will, but I don’t have to like it. (via The Hollywood Reporter)

Because the weather in the northeast has become unpredictably hot like Canadian actress Emily VanCamp. (Like really? Who saw that coming?) Because Madeleine Stowe once decided to leave Hollywood to become a farmer but luckily returned to be one of the sexiest fifty-somethings on television. Because as the 2011-2012 television season comes to a close, we reflect on how difficult it was for ABC to find a new series that didn’t embarrass a famously defunct airline, Aaron Spelling’s ghost, Tim Allen’s tool belt, or the network itself. Because Wednesdays seem so hollow and humdrum without Revenge gracing our tubes with its weekly dose of crimson and guile. Because top arbitrary amount of things lists are an easy way to fill up a blog post for the uncreative. Whatever the cause of its conception, here lies the top five reasons to rewatch (if you haven’t already hopped on the bandwagon by now, I weep for you) the alphabet network’s clinic on compellingly satisfying TV Revenge:

5. Connor Paolo fans (I know you’re out there, Paolo-itos!) get promptly reintroduced to classic Eric van der Woodsen steez, as if to provide refuge to the hordes of Gossip Girl expats who clamor for a return to UES prep school attire. The character of Declan Porter on Revenge seems to be an appropriate remix of both Eric and Dan — if middle class Long Island towny isn’t the Brooklyn bred not-so-starving artist of 2012, I don’t know what is. And somehow, this amalgam works pretty well in the Hamptons. Declan has the relatively rough backstory to give his usually opaque whimpers (and complexion) some color. Speaking of…

4. The color red. It’s everywhere. It foreshadows, underscores, and highlights. It somehow legitimizes an almost too simple premise and title card. The scarlet color palette is just part of the richly provocative aesthetic of Revenge. The sartorial direction must be noted as well.1 The pilot episode sets a precedent by introducing a majority of the players in snazzy red formal attire under the auspices of both an engagement party and a murder. Revenge appears most palpable when red, and the series is most stirring when it explores relationship and/or displays violence. The color red connotes bloodshed and lust simultaneously, and the series persistently teeters between the two to the benefit of its viewers.

3. The show’s sheer consistency in performance has to be praised. Those that follow TV show advanced metrics (is that a real thing yet?), may appreciate the stats where Revenge excels: ranking first in dramatic reveals per televised hour, leading the pack in voiceover efficiency quotient, and off the charts scores in flashback utilization rate. There’s’ simply something impressive about the exposition of story in the series. Creator Mike Kelley, of One Tree Hill and The O.C. fame, exploits familiar tropes — from combat training and wisdom gaining from older Asian men to young love struggling to traverse disparate upbringings — to bring essentially The Count of Monte Cristo: Suffolk County Edition to the small screen from a female perspective.

2. And that female perspective is terrific. Emily VanCamp’s performance makes the television you overpaid for because some kid at Best Buy made fun of you for not going bigger when you really just wanted him to explain why your antenna stopped working worth every cent. She effectively manages a host of storylines, identities, romances, red outfits, fight scenes, scowls, fake smiles, real smiles, and lies. Emily as Emily Thorne or Amanda Clarke, as a brunette or a blonde, delicate or ass-kicking, is simply a joy to watch. She’s a sympathetic female protagonist who operates with a level of agency and competence regrettably uncommon among TV’s leading ladies. No lady from Liz Lemon to the Girls girls is as capable as Amanda Clarke/Emily Thorne. In fact, she’s more comparable to Don Draper. Yeah, I said it. Revenge should be called Mad WoMen. (I know. Sorry.)

1. That brings me to the final reason you should rewatch the addictive first season of Revenge this summer, and prepare for its Fall return: Emily VanCamp’s ascension from girl next door cute to femme fatale hot, alongside Madeleine Stowe’s reassertion of her own unwavering good looks as summer ice queen of the Hampton’s, Victoria Grayson.2 The two of them playing off one another is captivating, if only for the high level of pretty that each brings to the table. Fundamentally, that is what the show offers — a casual dalliance into the world of the beautifully coiffed 1%. There’s certainly something superficial about the appeal of the series, but when superficial is done well enough, what’s genuine is how much you enjoy where you’ve found yourself, how interested you are in the pretty faces. In that, the most important reason to rewatch Revenge is truly Emily VanCamp’s interestingly (unconventionally?) pretty face and everything that it may represent for a viewer.

There’s certainly something significant to be said about the ability of this young woman to lead a successful network series as a fully dressed, strong, and able woman. But I’d rather close with the latest gossip that Emily VanCamp was spotted making out with her costar, Josh Bowman (Daniel Grayson).3

1And the lovely Ashley Madekwe must be mentioned here. Aside from being an unabashed fashionista on and off the screen, I spent at least four episodes deciphering her racial makeup. I settled on her being part Black, Western African, because of her English accent but she was definitely Puerto Rican or Bengali for a scene or two. She’s like a chameleon, always just the right color, always just the right outfit.

2In 1994 she was one of People‘s “50 Most Beautiful People in the World.” In 1995, she was one of Empire‘s “100 Sexiest Stars in film history.”

3Greatest disappointment from Revenge‘s first season: Daniel not being dead. And now, he’s smooching my boo.

As the warm season approaches, networks often have difficult (and not-so) decisions to make regarding their schedules and roster of programming. Surely the ratings have a lot to do with the decision making processes, but, as fans, we like to believe other factors come into play to some extent — whether it’s product placement monetization, #hashtag trend prominence, or executives possibly playing favorites hopefully with our favorites. We choose to believe in these less quantifiable and more unconventional series success variables so to justify our hope in the future of a favorable TV landscape, a future of fully packed DVRs and neglected loved ones. The hope fuels the ubiquitous social media campaigns, the zealous written pleas mailed to the network in bulk (do people still do that?), and manic financial support for commercial sponsors. Whatever the cause for each decision, cancel or renew, either a fandom finds corroboration in an x number of episodes commitment or viewers curse the callousness of network suits and their unwavering reverence to whims of Nielsen homes.

And all of that is simply to say this — listed at times with brazen bias:

  • Community has been renewed by NBC for a fourth season of 13 episodes. Not a surprise necessarily but surely a relief to many. This season has been filled with ups and downs for Community fans — consistently low ratings followed by a long impromptu mid-season hiatus, then a solid return with quality episodes that appeared to showcase creator Dan Harmon’s pointed response to the show’s received criticisms and uncertain future. To top it all off, it’s funny as fuck. The recent episode “Curriculum Unavailable” provided a ceremonious goodbye to the paintball episode tradition and, in essence, the Community of old. Times are a-changin’. And Community still has time (a new time actually, on Fridays come Fall), even if, rumor has it, Dan Harmon doesn’t.
  • FOX is giving Fringe a fifth and final season of 13 episodes, 13 more opportunities for Peter-Olivia shippers to be simultaneously placated to and kept in a persistent state of unease. That Fringe.
  • NBC has also given 30 Rock the go ahead to produce 13 more episodes for what is being labeled the final season. The guarantee is more that Tina Fey and the gang will be returning, not necessarily that the amount of episodes is set in stone or in this being the true last season, last inevitable live episode, last batch of Donaghy-isms, etc.
  • TBS has successfully acquired Cougar Town from ABC, saving the comedy from certain cancellation. Another opportunity for comedic relativism (“You just don’t get it. It’s funny.”) to gain some traction for those that stand by Courtney Cox’s ability to deliver on humor.
  • A bunch of no brainers were renewed including: ABC’s Happy Endings and Shonda Rhimes stuffs; an assortment of CSINCIS’s on CBS; Parenthood, Smash and Law & Order:SVU on the peacock network; and Bones and New Girl on FOX.
  • New shows The Secret Circle, Ringer, both on the CW Network; GCG on ABC; The Finder and Breaking In on FOX; NBC’s Awake, Best Friends Forever, and Are You There Chelsea? have all been canceled, Awake due to its overly advanced brand of storytelling, the rest because they sucked. But to be fair, there’s no guarantee Breaking In will stay canceled — that sly Christian Slater.
  • Have you ever watched NYC 22? Good. And now you won’t have to.
  • TV by the Numbers has a handy list of all other cancelations and renewals for the whole season.
  • Finally, Community and Fringe have been renewed! (Still great news the second time around.)

There’s a metaphor upheld in classic situation comedies – sitcoms from The Mary Tyler Moore Show to All in the Family – that may be long forgotten now but the words “filmed before a live studio audience” act as artifacts symbolizing its importance. The metaphor points to a time where comedy was acted out on stages in front of real people who laughed at jokes and digested stories in real time. The metaphor is mostly lost on those of us who’ve never had that experience – where something genuinely funny made the crowd roar and the performance itself would pause for a moment to, in a sense, fan the flame and incite a dynamic relationship between the audience and the performers. But still, the pacing and style and techniques of a traditional sitcom remain firmly embedded in our televised culture. There’s a reason Zack Morris or the Fresh Prince (or more recently, Marty Kaan in House of Lies) speaking directly into the camera, to the audience, evokes a tingling of unconventionality and the understanding that something is amiss.

The longstanding rules of a sitcom (or any of the stuff on television really) are set before the viewer implicitly and accepted unconsciously, to the extent that even if the fourth wall isn’t overtly assessed, we feel it being broken. A laundry list of tropes and methods contribute almost insidiously to the familiarity of a sitcom. But there are those (Tina Fey and Dan Harmon come to mind) that wish to break not only the fourth wall but everything – from superfluous cameras to live studio audience chairs. But to be fair, there tends to be innovation and a rich sort of pleasure that spring forth from broken things, despite the apology given to parents and shopkeepers.

30 Rock on NBC makes funny happen with a single camera setup, no laugh-track, and quick cuts. Modern Family on ABC and Parks and Recreation on NBC throw in the mockumentary stylization, perhaps popularized most prominently in the US by The Office, and garners several laughs too with the ratings to match. Curb Your Enthusiasm utilizes a cinéma vérité style to achieve the true-to-life feel without individual interviews interspersed throughout the episode, and can solicit a guffaw with the best of them. These are the quintessential situational comedies of the day, brazenly challenging what a sitcom has been long established to be. But not only do they challenge tradition, there appears to be an established new status quo for comedic delivery with new techniques and methods, which many view as superior.

Over at Salon, Kartina Richardson, expresses the opinion that “once you’ve grown used to adventurous shows like 30 Rock and Louie, the traditional sitcom feels like a relic.” She meant that in a bad way. Presumably not like a cool Smithsonian leather jacket relic once wormed by one Arthur H. Fonzarelli. Richardson implies that the very form of the sitcom has been upgraded in contemporary hands and those shows that fall behind, clinching onto tradition, appear somehow qualitatively weaker than the new standards. Supposedly, the bar has been raised. But how can the bar truly be raised by those who rely so heavily on the bar itself to stand tall upon and be funny?

30 Rock used Kelsey Grammer this past week as a gag without the need to establish why this should be funny. It just was. There was even a song at the end of the episode about it. It’s no surprise that NBC misses Frasier and its heyday of comedic glory, and refers to it whenever they get the chance. But this represents a fundamental component of the new sitcom world order: a persistent reliance on the old sitcom world order…a quality the old sitcoms surely had themselves. Arrested Development, for all its comedic envelope pushing, offered to the viewer one of the most iconic straightedge voices of the 70s-80s sitcom in Ron Howard, as a narrator. Curb Your Enthusiasm literally exists to quench a desire for a more extensive relationship with Seinfeldian story development. Resisting the lingo of the postmodern, it seems that “the great sitcom divide” as coined by Richardson and perceived by several couch-side theorists, is not necessarily a divide but a matrix yielding various shows all self-referencing the matrix.

Hot in Cleveland is just as funny as Community, if not funnier. (Let the pitchforks burn and a group of readers stop here and log back onto Reddit.) Both are on their third season and both represent modern instances of each school of sitcom-thought – TV Land’s Hot in Cleveland using not only a multi-camera setup but also a laugh track. Community is known to be tremendously clever, armed with parody in one holster, a meta-joke in the other. Hot in Cleveland instead relies on the “granny still got it” gimmick every episode (fueled by the best granny we have in the game, Betty White) and single middle-aged white woman hijinks. But whereas Community has been compared to Arrested Development in its originality (a paradox that seems acceptable among some of the most evangelical fans) and encourages a loyal fan-base to parse its subtleties, Hot in Cleveland can be readily compared to everything from Golden Girls to Just Shoot Me and has fans that were pre-cultivated to enjoy this show, to get these jokes, for the most part by the show’s actresses (and guest stars) themselves. Jane Leeves (from Frasier fame), Wendie Malick (from Just Shoot Me), and Valerie Bertinelli (51 and cute as a button) in a sitcom are inherently intertextual, if that’s what you’re into; they reference their past work outside of this show with every line they recite. And the show is damn funny. In a recent episode, flashing back to the 80s, cliches are shot off in quick succession at the comedic pace of the best “new” sitcom you can think of.

Community is great, but it doesn’t seem necessary to make a widespread qualitative distinction to separate it and its ilk from the more traditional sitcoms. The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret can be better than Two and a Half Men without attacking the latter’s set production, like the first season of Happy Days didn’t use a single-camera. C’mon! The tactic seems to cheapen more than enrich an argument. Tradition isn’t stifling creativity despite what some may believe. It just doesn’t seem to make sense that a pre-recorded audience causes a sitcom to feel stale or unfunny. And the reverse logic makes even less sense. 2 Broke Girls wouldn’t be any funnier or any better with less cameras on set. (Many people do however suggest a 0-camera setup would be optimal but remember, no Neilsen no cry.) The sitcom landscape looks a bit different today and some of us clamor for the new and cool like children not fully understanding the shape of it all, but remember all television still fits in a box fairly well. Outstanding traditional sitcoms like Hot in Cleveland still fit fairly well.