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By and large, 2003 was not a good year for the TV shows I like. Firefly was officially cancelled (although the screening of the episodes 'Trash,' 'The Message,' and 'Heart of Gold' on the UK Sci-Fi channel midway through the year, and the news that we're likely to get a feature film/mini series/something or other in the relatively near future have kept Serenity flying for a little while, at least), and Farscape wasn't far behind (although there too, it's looking like we'll get a follow-up miniseries). Buffy came to the end of its run two years late, and after a strong fourth season Angel only survived for a fifth by undergoing a substantial retooling. Aaron Sorkin left The West Wing after what was arguably its strongest season, and the shine started to wear off 24 when the second season went into a holding pattern for the last eight hours of its run.

Going into the autumn TV season, then, a number of my favourite shows had something to prove. Thanks to snowking, gagravarr, danmilburn and despotliz for keeping me up to date.

Angel is doing pretty well. The fifth season is not without wobbles, but as time goes on and the writers start to actually tackle the questions behind the new premise, the episodes are getting stronger. The addition of Spike still grates, and some of the resulting stories (*cough*'Destiny'*cough*) have felt like retreads even though they haven't been simply because there has been so much fan speculation about how the two souled vampires would interact. Overall, B. Best episode: 'The Cautionary Tale Of Numero Cinco.' And tizzle_b will be pleased to hear that I've got reviews all ready to post to umta when the new season starts. Or if he's not pleased, exactly, he might not hassle me quite so much this year.

Watching the fifth season of The West Wing has been downright weird at times. In particular, the female characters have suffered (CJ and Abbey have both acted like idiots more than once) and with the appointment of a new Vice President and the retirement of Fitz, there's a very definite sense that the guard is changing. That said, some of the characters, notably Josh and Toby, are still getting interesting material, and even without Sorkin most of the writers are still turning out reasonable dialogue. Overall, C+. Best episode: Probably 'Constituency of One.'

The third season of 24 hit the ground running, and hasn't stopped yet. Admittedly, this time last year I felt the same way about the second season, and that all went somewhat to pieces towards the end, but even so: There are few changes to season three that haven't worked out very well - Kim's new role, and the addition of Chase have both been success stories - and as of episode 8 the plotting feels tight. In fact, the only thing to get upset about is the fact that over here the BBC won't be showing it first. Overall, B+. Best episode: Hour 8.

Smallville, meanwhile, is threatening to stop being my guilty pleasure show and start being genuinely good. The two-part season opener was a fun popcorn superman romp, but it's the November sweeps episodes that have really raised the bar. The first appearance of Perry White is by turns clever, witty and affecting, and the sweeps-ending Lex episode confirms anything everyone's ever said about the fall of Lex Luthor being the most interesting aspect of the show. B. Best episode: The darky-dark dark dark 'Shattered.' Mmm. Dark.

Two new US shows got a lot of attention in the second half of 2003. With the exception of the fantastic title sequence, Dead Like Me (D) was a consistent disappointment. Never as funny as it thought it was, with a cast of characters that were by and large distinctly unsympathetic, I honestly have no idea what everyone else seems to see in it, and I likely won't be watching the second season. On the other hand, HBO's Carnivale (A) pretty much had me at 'hello.' Not only did it have an even better title sequence (how long until they actually start to merchandise that tarot deck, I wonder?), but from start to finish it was gorgeously shot, lavishly produced, and wonderfully acted. Thank god there's a second season on the way. The other new US shows that I'd like to check out at some point are Jake 2.0, Joan of Arcadia, Tru Calling and the remake of Battlestar Galactica.

As for UK TV well, I didn't find much to choose from. Russel T Davies' The Second Coming was of course fantastic, and the best piece of telefantasy made over here for years; and from all the buzz it attracted, I'm sorry I missed State of Play (so I'll be keeping an eye out for Paul Abbott's next series, Shameless. But really, that was about it.

It feels like I didn't go to the cinema all that much this year, but I can still think of a fair number of films I was impressed by. Top of the list is Steven Sodebergh's Solaris, a much more enjoyable yet no less faithful take on Lem's novel than the Tsarkovsky version, and the most impressive synthesis of visuals and audio that I've seen…well, ever, I think. I also enjoyed Hulk more than most people; I liked the comic-book direction and I liked the huge green lunk himself, and if it wasn't an unqualified success then it was certainly a very dignified near-miss. By contrast the other big superhero movie of the year, X2 was more polished but, for me, less impressive.

Spirited Away was the best fantasy film of the year. The cynical part of me wonders just how many of the things I admire about this film are as clichéd to the Japanese as Disney films are to us, but to be honest it's wonderful and beautiful enough that I just don't care. I feel similarly about Finding Nemo; it's the most conventional Pixar film to date, such that I feel I should be worrying that the studio has lost its ambition, but it was still so purely enjoyable that I can't bring myself to be that concerned. At the other end of the scale, one thing Charlie Kaufman can't be criticised for is a lack of ambition. Adaptation had it in spades and was all told a very good film, although my head still hurts a little if I think about it too hard. And then you have Kill Bill, in which Quentin Tarantino's main ambition seems to be FIGHTY FIGHTY SLASH CUT SMASH FIGHT. And there's nothing wrong with that. Last but far from least, rounding off the year was Return of the King which, minor niggles aside (do cavalry really work like that?), did pretty much everything it needed to and everything I wanted it to.
Solaris was indeed beautiful. I'm consistently suprised by how little attention it continues to get.
If my four review of the year posts combined get less comments than my text message post announcing that I've written a review of the year, I'll be sad. You wouldn't want that, would you?
Hey, if you're asking for a comment-bomb, I've got a pile of sockpuppets just waiting round the corner...
A pile of whatnow? Is this anything like the Truth Snake?
*howls with laughter*

I <3 our socks.
go on.....
Let's be honest - an opportunity to mock Niall always tends to get more responses than an opportunity to engage with him in fruitful cogitation.

Oh wait. Damn!
Best episode: 'The Cautionary Tale Of Numero Cinco.'

Interesting, because I thought it was one of the worst! Maybe it merits a re-watching. Although, I am affected by rather more Spike-sympathies than you ;o)
It divides opinion, I'll grant. I'm more-or-less in agreement with this.

I disliked 'Just Rewards' and 'Life of the Party', but also liked 'Hellbound', 'Lineage' and 'Destiny'. So I'm not all about the Spike hate...
Or if he's not pleased, exactly, he might not hassle me quite so much this year.

I asked you for short reviews the instant the trio-of-episodes we watched at chez snowking ended. You declined.

I'll pester you by SMS on the night of the episodes airing.

If I, er, know they air.

And I'm not sure I'll be around to run polls...well, maybe via google but that sucks. So bah.
I'll pester you by SMS on the night of the episodes airing.

I plan to remember DURING THE DAY and post them from work. Ha!

And I'm not sure I'll be around to run polls...well, maybe via google but that sucks. So bah.

Yikes. Do we need to sort out a new pollmaster?
a new pollmaster

Slay that kind of talk, Harrison.

I'll run it, well - more or less.

More or less...
I haven't seen any Angel S5 yet but I wondered whether the Angel/Spike relationship would end up paralelling the Buffy/Faith relationship in S3 Buffy. Which at least gives me some hope.
I'm going off Tru Calling now. Started out with good premise, but didn't do anything. The l;ast few episodes have had good development of the arc for a few minutes, then the same old stuff for the rest of the show :(