Watching TV Shows on DVD is the new Watching Movies in the Theatre (when you have a one year-old and no babysitter):
Mad Men, Season 2 As coolly flawless as the first season, yet more balanced in its attention to its sprawling cast. Namely, Season 2 sensitively fleshes out its key female characters into human beings as complex and fascinating and frustrating as their male counterparts. Last season, Betty, Peggy, and Joan had their choice moments, to be sure, but here, they're given welcome room to breathe and really take shape. At the same time, Don Draper emerges even more this time out as a real Tony Soprano-scaled protag, a post-Shakespearean figure in the throes of myriad personal, professional, and existential crises that, try as they might, his friends, co-workers, lovers, and family members could never hope to fully understand. He's as compelling a central character as TV--or maybe American pop culture in general--has produced since Gandolfini's iconic turn.
Standout Performer: January Jones treads very interesting, and delicate, territory here, alternating--sometimes within the space of a scene--between icy Mommy Dearest and vulnerable woman scorned. Jones' dramatic versatility, far more apparent this season than last, lends Betty a depth of feeling that makes her a perfect on-screen match for Jon Hamm's Don.
Best Moment(s): Don's California detour steers his character and the show itself in an unexpected direction. Echoes of Tony Soprano's final-season trip to Vegas following Christopher's death are perhaps unavoidable, but they in no way detract from the dreamlike power of our main man's stoic facade evaporating amongst a commune of proto-hippie types.
Dexter, Season 3 To claim that Dexter jumped the shark this season would be a considerable overstatement. Yes, it stoops to dubious levels of soap opera melodrama and character motivations are often vague or questionable. But it's no less compulsively watchable than the two seasons that preceded it, and some of the stuff on the margins here--Angel's budding romance, Rita's pregnancy--is thoughtful enough to more or less redeem the season's weaker elements--Deb's third consecutive (and least interesting) dead-end relationship, Masuka's short-lived serious side, Quinn's less-sinister-than-we're-led-to-suspect secret, etc. Perhaps the biggest problem is that as Dexter Morgan becomes more of a multi-dimensional character, he's less flexibly functional as a metaphor (as he was in the superior and more ambiguous first season). This is no knock at all, of course, on Michael C. Hall, who is, if anything, better than ever as Dexter grapples with such foreign concepts as Fatherhood and Friendship. Ditto Jimmy Smits, who is a total hoot as Miguel, even when the scripters run his character way too far off the rails.
Standout Performer: David Zayas doesn't necessarily expand on Angel's broken-hearted teddy bear persona so much as expertly capitalize on every scene advancing the subplot of his workplace romance. Kristin Dattilo is very good, too, as the officer on the other end of that relationship.
Best Moment(s): The Dexter/Miguel dynamic yields a number of vintage scenes before things get too over-baked. Their shopping trip, where Dexter throws a couple life jackets in the cart so as not to provoke suspicion, is up there. And the scene where Dexter pretends to care about sports was pretty good, too.
Friday Night Lights, Season 3 This is one of the most wholly satisfying and consistently poignant seasons of any show I've ever seen. Which is to say, it more than makes up for the previous season's missteps (read: the Landry-Tyra murder tangent, Jason's desperate trip south of the border). There isn't a single character or situation here that doesn't ring utterly true, nor a cast member that doesn't make the most of his or her every scene. And yet, no one's trying to chew scenery here; this is the best ensemble on television, period. There's uncommon warmth and moments of startling beauty in every episode this cycle, as well as an eye for for the tiny, perfectly formed details of day-to-day life that are rarely captured so truthfully in art of any stripe.
Standout Performer: If Jason Street's move from Dillon to New York equals his swansong as a regularly appearing character, then Scott Porter more than goes out on a high note. In the first two seasons, Porter seemed to sometimes focus a bit too much on Jason's anger toward his disability. Here, Jason realizes that such frustrations are essentially obstacles in the way of him being the best father and provider he can be. The scene where he sings to his son over the phone deserves every tear it earns. His later proposal scene makes even Tim Riggins cry.
Best Moment(s): Aside from the pair I just mentioned, Smash thanking Coach Taylor for all his help, Matt and Julie making googly eyes at each other after reuniting as a couple, and Tyra reading the final draft of her college application letter are about as sweet and genuinely touching as TV gets.