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Thread: The top TV shows of 2008

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    Elite Member Aella's Avatar
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    Default The top TV shows of 2008

    The Top TV shows of 2008

    I wasn't sure I'd even have 10 shows to fill out a "best of" list this year.
    The broadcast networks made us all suffer through their least successful fall season in years, and several months of watching blah pilots had put me in a grumpy frame of mind. But looking over 2008 as a whole, however, prodded my memory, thank goodness (and as it happened, I ended up with 12 items on what was supposed to be a Top 10 list).
    So let’s hear it for the resilience of TV, which survived a strike and a generally weak roster of new offerings and still managed to come up with the following quality fare:
    • Mad Men,” AMC: Even when it confounded me, this rich, complicated drama about yearning, unpredictable men and women left me hungry for more. This year, the “Mad” men frequently yielded center stage to the show’s frustrated, fascinating women, who turned in stunning performances, and to supporting characters such as the lovable but heartbreaking Freddy Rumsen (Joel Murray). “Only connect,” E.M. Forster wrote. It’s never easy, but I look forward to watching Don Draper keep trying.
    • The Shield,” FX: Few shows in the history of television have worked as hard to keep their fans’ attention; only high-quality Swiss timepieces are more beautifully complex. Yet what I’ll remember of the show’s devastating final two episodes is the emotional wallop that they packed. Kudos to the show’s superlative cast and to this taut, brilliant serial, which set a new bar for quality drama and then kept raising it.
    • Battlestar Galactica,” Sci Fi: This show is not just full of political allegories and fascinating, multifaceted characters, it’s just also a terrific yarn. Every season, “Battlestar” unleashes one or two “are you kidding me!” shockers, and this year was no exception. But every well-earned (and deliciously interesting) plot twist speaks to the pursuit of a central question, one faced by both humans and the robotic Cylon race -- “Can we rise above our darkest impulses?”
    • Lost,” ABC: The pessimist in me is already wondering what network drama could possibly follow in “Lost’s” footsteps. Once it exits in 2010, what show will be capable of engaging our brains, bringing out the obsessive clue-sifter in each of us and putting a lump in our throats, all at the same time? A world without this adventurous character drama is not one I want to contemplate, so I’ll stay in denial for now.
    • In Treatment,” HBO: If you made it past the first or second weeks of this drama, you were hooked. By midway through its unusual run, which had HBO airing five half-hour episodes per week, I was fully and frantically addicted to the tale of a sensitive, sometimes obtuse shrink (Gabriel Byrne), his patients, his wife (Michelle Forbes) and his flinty therapist (Dianne Wiest). This probing, compassionate series provided sensational material for all of those actors, as well as for newcomer Mia Wasikowska, who played a tortured gymnast with virtuoso skill, and veteran Glynn Turman, who turned in a stunning performance as the father of a patient.
    • Chuck,” NBC: Week in and week out, this delightful and well-crafted spy dramedy brings a smile to my face. The “retail clerk as secret spy” premise allows for lots of zingy action, but it’s the silly antics of Chuck’s friends at the Buy More electronics store that greatly increases the delight quotient. Still, without the sweet, smart sincerity that Zachary Levi brings to the title role, the show would just be (highly enjoyable) fluff. As it is, his mutual crush on his spy handler, Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski), gives “Chuck” unexpected and welcome dramatic heft.
    • Supernatural,” the CW/“Torchwood,” BBC America/“Doctor Who,” Sci Fi: Don’t make me pick just one genre favorite! The unheralded but excellent “Supernatural” is by far the most consistent of the three, packing meaty thrills, dude-tastic humor and solid storytelling into each episode. “Torchwood” is by far the cheekiest and sexiest of the trio, and despite some sigh-inspiring wobbles, it was even more satisfying in its frequently imaginative and compelling second season. “Doctor Who” was the most maddeningly inconsistent of the three, but when it worked, its mixture of wicked humor, slightly skewed sci-fi storytelling and poignant relationship drama was satisfying indeed. And David Tennant was simply brilliant as the Doctor; he’ll be missed when he exits the role after a series of 2009 specials.
    • Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog,” via the Internet (and DVD, as of Dec. 19): What did TV maestro Joss Whedon (“Dollhouse,” “Buffy,” “Angel”) do during the writers’ strike of ought-eight? Well, he just reinvented the increasingly outmoded TV model, that’s all. With “hey kids, let’s put on a show!” brio, he and a talented cast made this three-part musical, put it on the Web and raked in all the loot for his merry band of creative types, not for faceless corporate overlords (insert a devilish cackle -- something along the lines of a hearty “mooowahahahahhah!” -- here). Next year, can we expect a 24-7, online TV network (JTV?) from this savvy writer/producer and his minions? Please?
    • 30 Rock,” NBC: “30 Rock” has given us many useful bits of advice (“Never go with a hippie to a second location.” “Live every week like it’s Shark Week.”). But perhaps its most useful function is to remind us that NBC, despite its ever-growing roster of cringe-inducing mistakes, is still capable of supporting smart, sophisticated, endlessly quotable and utterly necessary comedy.
    • The presidential election: It wasn’t just that the election provided more twists and turns than a “Shield’ episode. It wasn’t just that it was full of people who were more complicated and compelling than anyone on network TV. It’s that dozens of other shows took the fodder that the election provided and made all kinds of hay with it, from “Saturday Night Live” to “The Daily Show” to “The View” to CNN’s John King, who worked wonders with his Magic Wall. We all got sick of the election, sure, but don’t we miss the Magic Wall just a little bit?
    Keep reading for my list of runners-up, for the "What the Heck Happened" nominees and for a few extremely random musings on the year gone by.
    The Runners-Up
    • Burn Notice,” USA: An intelligent and polished spy thriller, one that provides deadpan narration, easy camaraderie and enjoyably intricate plots. Few things on TV bring me more pleasure than the combination of Bruce Campbell and Jeffrey Donovan, who play ex-spies Sam Axe and Michael Westen.
    • Law & Order,” NBC: Think old dogs can’t learn new tricks? Think again. In its 18th and 19th seasons, this old dog shook off his encroaching lethargy and showed far more vigor than pups less a quarter his age.
    • Friday Night Lights,” DirecTV: It may not be as consistently transporting as it was in its jewel-like first season, but this drama is still capable of piercing my heart with finely calibrated performances and small, telling moments that linger in the memory.
    • “The Middleman,” ABC Family: Screwball sci-fi? Yes, please. Anchored by an energetic and joyful performance by Matt Keeslar, this goofy and lovable sendup of every sci-fi cliche in the history of the universe was one of the summer’s fizziest and most winning finds. Please bring it back, ABC Family. I’m not above abject begging.
    • “The Closer,” TNT: This show veers toward melodrama and cutesiness more often than I’d like, but when star Kyra Sedgwick locks on to a good scene like a laser-guided missile, this cop drama becomes utterly addictive.
    • “Saturday Night Live,” NBC: Let’s get the caveats out of the way first: This year featured more than its share of uninspired sketches, many of the digital shorts were mystifyingly inane and Fred Armisen’s Obama has yet to blow anyone away. But on the other hand: Tina Fey. Her hilarious Sarah Palin impression was obviously the comedy home run of the year, and that’s all we’ll remember about “SNL” circa 2008. And Jon Hamm’s outstanding turn as host proved that the show is -- surprisingly enough -- capable of cranking out a consistently good episode.
    • The Wire,” HBO: The newsroom story line didn’t work for me at all, but the rest of this final season provided many masterfully created moments, which its stellar cast pulled off with aplomb. As the capper to the most unflinchingly realistic drama ever created for television, the season had its flaws but it allowed us one more chance to spend time with Baltimore’s compellingly complex cops and criminals. Taken together, the five seasons of “The Wire” constitute a masterpiece, one that made you think without preaching.
    • “Generation Kill,” HBO: As uncompromising as everything else creators David Simon and Ed Burns of “The Wire” have ever made, this Iraq War chronicle avoided war-movie cliches even as it etched wonderfully detailed portraits of the irreverent grunts who fight on the front lines.
    • “Architecture School,” Sundance Channel: Who knew a group of students building a house in post-Katrina New Orleans could be this fascinating? An understated and well-made reality series about what happens to good intentions in the real world.
    • Season 4 of “Project Runway,” Bravo: Your last nerve may have been worked by its shockingly sub-par fifth season (don’t start me). But the fourth season of the show also aired in 2008, and it was everything an unmissable reality show should be -- involving, dramatic and surprising. Plus it was capped with Christian Siriano’s bravura win.
    • “True Blood,” HBO: Cheeseball dialogue and melodramatic touches? Yep. A distressing lack of on-screen charisma between the central couple? Check. So it ain’t exactly your usual HBO fare -- arty, restrained, intellectual. When the plotting finally picked up enough tension and momentum, this vampire series was just plain soapy fun.
    • How I Met Your Mother,” CBS: Like most shows, “HIMYM” struggled when it resumed production after the writers strike (it took a while to blot “Everything Must Go,” which featured a second guest-starring appearance from Britney Spears, out of my mind). But week to week, few show provide as much pleasure as this enjoyable ensemble comedy, which, at its very best, resembles “Lost” in both intricacy and emotional impact. This engaging show and the increasingly good "Big Bang Theory" make for one solidly entertaining CBS comedy block.
    • “The Unit,” CBS: The show to watch when you’re in the mood for frilly, frothy escapism. Ha! No, the manliness of this military drama can’t be topped (even the women are tough as nails and definitely not people you’d want to tick off). But the stories that unfold are studded with compelling surprises, emotion pervades even the most terse scenes and the cast is uniformly top-notch.
    • “Easy Money,” the CW: The CW’s Sunday night lineup just flopped, plain and simple. It’s a shame that this smart show about a family of moneylenders was part of that ill-fated roster. This quietly compelling show, which was anchored by the typically excellent Laurie Metcalf, deserved a much better fate.
    • “Privileged,” the CW: Some of us still miss “Gilmore Girls” and want a female-centered, sarcastic soap in our lives. This show than fills the bill, and if the plots are sometimes insubstantial, the show’s heart is plenty sturdy.
    • The Office,” NBC: By this point, we can all name a bunch of “Office” episodes or scenes that just didn’t work. But we keep returning to it, because it’s the TV equivalent of your favorite pair of jeans. They may have seen better days, but they just feel comfy and familiar. And “The Office” is still capable of pulling of some big laughs and even some tearjerking maneuvers when we least expect them (such as Jim’s proposal to Pam).
    The What the Heck Happened Awards:
    • Dexter,” Showtime: Season 3 finally got somewhat interesting -- though not nearly as interesting as in the previous two seasons -- around Episodes 9-11. But the rest of this lackluster, predictable season was a waste of time. Ugh. This show used to be spring-loaded with tension, but this season, the plotting was slack, the supporting characters were thinly drawn and the storytelling was just plain sloppy. Time to pull the plug on “Dexter” if Season 4 is similarly pallid (though, regrettably, that’s unlikely if the show’s ratings continue to be strong).
    • House,” Fox: Season 4 of this medical drama contained the enjoyable “Survivor” riff that produced House’s new set of assistants, gave us Mira Sorvina’s engrossing showcase and unleashed a finale that allowed Robert Sean Leonard and Anne Dudek, as Wilson and Amber, to stomp our hearts even as it worked our tear ducts. This season? Don’t get me started. Though the show should start its repair work by backing of the constant Thirteen showcases.
    Random musings and so forth:
    Here is a completely random list of things I enjoyed or felt the need to draw attention to at year’s end. This is not meant to be a comprehensive list of high or low points, just random things that came to mind as I scrolled through my 2008 blog entries.
    • I really enjoyed the strike-era doings on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien.” Late-night TV hasn’t been this weird, goofy and spontaneous in years. The zipline! The German techno disco! The sense that anything could happen! We’ll miss all of it when Conan tones down the weirdness when he takes over “The Tonight Show” next year.
    • A Walk to Beautiful” is a documentary worth seeking out. This affecting story about African women tugged at my heartstrings like nothing else this year, and never were tears so honestly earned. Two other documentaries worth watching: “Zora Neale Hurston: Jump at the Sun” and Frontline’s gripping “Rules of Engagement” (which you can watch in its entirety online).
    • For my money, the funniest campaign moment of the year -- aside from the Sarah Palin skits on “SNL” -- came when “The Daily Show” took on the town-hall debate between president-elect Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain. As McCain wandered around in the background as Obama answered a question, Jon Stewart supplied fictional narration from a man looking for a dog: “Mr. Puddles... Mr. Puddles... I have Snausages!” I died laughing every time I watched that.
    • After a long slog of a season, David Cook’s win gave a shred of credibility back to “American Idol,” which sorely needs it. Cook didn’t sing to avoid losing, as David Archuleta had all season. He sang to please himself, and it showed. Given “Idol’s” track record of celebrating vocal gymnastics over emotionally grounded performances, the affable Cook's win was a pleasant surprise.
    • Chris Parnell and Judy Greer were pretty delightful in “Miss Guided.” Parnell, who has a hilarious recurring role as Dr. Leo Spaceman on “30 Rock,” was perfectly cast as a pompous school official, and Greer, who was also a treat on “Californication” this year, needs to be on my TV every night of the week. Will someone please just give these people their own (awesome) shows?
    • Shows most enjoyed by other members of the Watcher household: “Total Drama Island” on Cartoon Network (my husband and son were addicted to that just-concluded show); “Hell Girl” on IFC (my husband’s favorite depressing anime -- wait, isn’t that phrase redundant?); “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” on Cartoon Network (my son is crazy for it); “Legend of the Seeker” (my husband and son enjoy this syndicated sword-and-sorcery spectacle from the team that brought you “Hercules” and “Xena.”)
    http://featuresblogs.chicagotribune.com/entertainment_tv/2008/12/lost-battlestar.html#more
    As much as it pains me, they have a point about quality taking a nosedive in this season's Dexter. It's still better than most TV out there, but the bar set by previous seasons is too high (and WORD on House-WTF was this shitty season?)

    Also, no way is Supernatural as good as Doctor Who, or even the crack that is Torchwood.
    "Remember to always be yourself. Unless you suck." - Joss Whedon

    "The only thing more expensive than education is ignorance." -Benjamin Franklin

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    Elite Member sputnik's Avatar
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    i need to catch up on my tv. i haven't watched anything this year.
    i did catch a few episodes of mad men and loved it and about half the season of 30 rock which i also adore so i agree with those being on the list. oh, and the wire. that show is pure tv genius.
    i have to catch up on this whole past season of battlestar.
    Last edited by sputnik; December 20th, 2008 at 11:40 AM.
    I'm open to everything. When you start to criticise the times you live in, your time is over. - Karl Lagerfeld

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    The only one of those shows I watched was Friday Night Lights and excuse me all to heck and back but they took it off the freaking air!!

    I also watched the HBO special The Tutors. TV sucks so bad I'm stuck watching reality TV

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    Elite Member Laxmobster's Avatar
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    My roommate got me watching Chuck this season! It's actually not bad...
    Quote Originally Posted by Celestial View Post
    I also choose to believe the rumors because I am, when it is all said and done, a dirty gossip.

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    Bronze Member beachblondie's Avatar
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    Chuck is my favorite show! I love Zachery Levi!

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