"The Loving Kind": Girls Aloud: reality show-assembled pop puppets don't get more successful the longer they exist in the public eye and they certainly don't get better. Except for Girls Aloud. Certainly, Cheryl Cole's ordeal as a cheated-on wife and her angelic participation in The X-Factor combined to anoint her Britain's Sweetheart-- thanks for stopping by, U.S readers!-- but the quality of their recorded output is amazingly consistent. "The Loving Kind" is the best of their underappreciated body of sad songs and it's also a clear indication that the Pet Shop Boys, it;'s authors, should consider putting their own career on the back burner and concentrate on knocking out melancholy dance hits for a new generation of pop stars.
"The Visitor": I hate people with too much talent. Tom McCarthy not only embodied The Death Of Journalism on `The Wire' but he's responsible for this touching, unexpected movie AND he had the presence of mind to see Richard Jenkins--one of the great `That Guy' character actors as it's lead. Best storytelling of the year.
"Mad Men": the last of a dying breed- a show that didn't make you feel like a sucker for tuning on every week and not stockpiling it on the DVR to be watched in a marathon that's never going to happen( I'm looking at you Prison Break and Dirty Sexy Money. Or, rather I'm not). There's a backlash on the way: I sense people resenting it having it shoved down their throat as The Compulsory Good Taste Show( I was the same way with The Arcade Fire: the more I was told how much I should like them, the more...you see where I'm going...) But this was a season to wallow in: Don Draper lost in L.A, the pee-stained decline of Freddy Rumsen, Sal's sad marriage and doomed crush, Betty and Glenn, Don and The Barretts, Miss Holloway's brief stint in the driver's seat, the ascension of Peggy...
"Chelsea Lately: there's going to be something like seven hours of talk shows on every night from next year. And all of them are going to be exactly the same. The same monologues with the same jokes about the same events that happened the same day. The same kind of guests. The same kind of questions. The same kind of bands. There's a lot not to love about Chelsea Handler and her E! vehicle: she uses the little person as a crutch, her sketches are horrible and she needs to be find a sympathetic hair person. But--Letteman, who's had a great year-- aside, no-one has a funnier talk show. Her celeb gossip panels are fun when the mix of stand-ups and gossip leeches rise to the occasion and deliver bitchy zingers to rival her own. It's way more entertaining when they don't and she turns her disdain on them. Case in point: some guy from E! News was mounting a sincere defence of--I could be wrong here-Lindsay Lohan and Handler shut him down with a wounding. "You think you know these people. You think they're your friends. They're not your friends!"