Best Reason to Be Happy You Spent Four Seasons Watching a TV Show:
Mad Men, "The Suitcase"
In "The Suitcase," the best episode of Mad Men's fourth season (and, arguably, the show's whole run), two longtime associates who have gone through five years of a contentious, often frustrating working relationship finally start to see each other as something more substantial after a long night of professional and emotional turmoil. And it's not the predictable love-interest coupling that lesser TV shows would take a stab at, but as peers who finally really learn how to empathize with each other in a context that doesn't involve ad copy or sales pitches. Elisabeth Moss and Jon Hamm nail these scenes with sharp efficiency, elevating the mood from aggravated, snarky late-hour tension into regret, sorrow, and sympathy in a way that feels natural after all these years of character development.
Best Twitter Feed by Someone Who Could also be the Best Webcomic Creator:
Twitter is an ideal outlet for people who have far too many jokes and ideas than they know what to do with, at least if Drew Fairweather's feed is any indication. Drew's already a songwriter and one of the creative minds behind the Sharing Machine webcomic empire, where he creates the hastily-doodled, constantly-funny Toothpaste for Dinner and co-writes the fount of clip-art surrealism that is Married to the Sea with wife Natalie Dee. But he still has enough comedy resources to drop gems on his Twitter feed a couple times a day, ranging from political jabs ("Replace Congress with 100 evil robots that eat everyone who's not rich. Same results, less dishonesty") to pop-culture baiting ("Wow, an incredible 'sandbox' video game where I can do anything I imagine! Guess I'll make a fucking Mario") to self-effacing jokes ("Why is foie gras such a big deal? Eating a pound of grain is what happens if you leave me alone with a box of Raisin Bran").
Best Usage of Over-the-Top Enthusiasm in Standup Comedy:
Most of our era's best comedians make their name by laying their neuroses, anger, and depression out on the line for their audience--which is part of the reason why Aziz Ansari's unusually good-natured approach, best displayed on this year's Intimate Moments for a Sensual Evening, is so singular. Seeing someone with so much energy and volume and stage presence who actually uses that dynamism to express giddiness instead of rage or condescension is not only rare but exhilirating, where even his stories revolving around antagonism and messing with people have this air of manic joy around them. This holds even when he's speculating over his own obituary--cause of death: looking up movie star trivia on his cell phone--or examing tone-deaf racial dialogue; when an interviewer asked if he was excited for the success of Slumdog Millionaire as an Indian-American, Aziz's conclusion was that, going by representations in film, white people must be psyched all the time.
Best Podcast to Make Light of Minnesota's Most Famous Ex-Governor:
Comedy Death-Ray Radio
Mr. Show alumnus and alternative comedy catalyst Scott Aukerman hosts one of the most brilliantly deranged podcasts going, a cult favorite that takes the conversations-with-comedians format and upends it with absurd, improvised character bits that rank up with vintage National Lampoon records when it comes to satirical, sick-humor inventiveness. Starting at the beginning of the year, when Patton Oswalt weighed in on the Leno/Conan screwjob with incisive wit and passionate anger (and a strange-voiced midget-man played by Reno 911's Thomas Lennon providing color commentary), Comedy Death-Ray has evolved into a remarkable ensemble cast punctuated by ingenious celebrity parodies (James Adomian as Jesse Ventura and Gary Busey; Paul F. Tompkins as Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cake Boss Buddy Valastro) and some of the funniest people in the business left unencumbered by normal deliberative thought processes.
Best Comics Artist to Combine Casual Human Interaction and Bizarre Creatures:
Brandon Graham's liquid penmanship, psychedelic graffiti iconography, and stimulus-crammed yet meticulous layouts made his just-concluded King City one of the most visually-arresting comics series to ever come out of the United States. Bursting with influences (Tintin, Heavy Metal, Akira, Cheech Wizard) yet instantly identifiable as one man's style, Graham's work perilously teeters somewhere between accessible simplicity and limitless strangeness without ever slipping into worn-out tropes or incoherence. It helps that his storytelling is superb: he brings out some adventurous, sometimes oddball plot devices--there are life-or-death confrontations with unspeakable terrors, characters hang out in wretched-hive dive bars filled with inexplicable inhumanoids, and the weapon of choice for the comic's leading man could be best-described as an all-purpose utility cat--but it really thrives on the kinds of lifelike, character-driven, day-to-day conversations and interactions that fantasy comics tend to neglect. His continuing work on the rescuscitated series Multiple Warheads promises an even more ambitious scope, and watching his career continue to develop is going to be a hell of a thrill.
Best Deconstruction-Based Movie Activity:
Attempting to make any sense of Inception