Thursday, January 01, 2009

Best of 2008: Television

Favorite New Show: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (FOX)
Really, it's not even fair to have this category this year, what with the writer's strike and the supremely awful crop of new shows that premiered this year. Last year was disappointing as well, but it gave us Chuck, Burn Notice and Pushing Daisies. This year? The only other new shows that are even on my list are two cartoons, Spectacular Spider-Man and Batman Brave and the Bold. Both great in their category, but not really competing with Sarah Connor, which started off as a mildly forgetabble but entertaining hour of sci-fi/action TV and slowly developed a reasonably complex set of time-traveling protagonists and antagonists, each with their own agenda, all the while deepening the main characters, especially Sarah Connor herself, the surprisingly good Brian Austin Greene as Derek Reese and Summer Glau's female terminator Cameron.

Favorite Spy Action Show: Chuck (NBC)
OK, I might be cheating by putting this category in, but really... neither Burn Notice nor Chuck belong fully in comedy or drama. Burn Notice came on strong in its second season, and I definitely think that anyone enjoying one should be enjoying the other. But Chuck was such a huge jump-up from, again, mildly diverting entertainment to really engaging characters and the perfect mix of pop-culture references, spy action and goofy self-awareness. It might not hurt that the pop-culture timing of Chuck seems to be exactly keyed in to my '80s era, with heavy references to Die Hard, Back to the Future and other geek staples. Leverage, the new show from John Rogers and company, would probably fit in this category as well, but I haven't gotten around to watching it yet. The reviews I've read seem to indicate it'll be a distant third to Chuck and Burn Notice anyway, at least for now.

Best Comedy: The Office (NBC)
In my heart, I really want to give this to 30 Rock, but as far as being consistently funny, The Office wins. It also has managed to do the drama/comedy blend that shows like Cheers, Friends and others tried for and often missed, winding up maudlin and not funny as a result. The Michael/Holly relationship was hilarious, fun, uplifting and ultimately heart-breaking, and the Jim/Pam stuff is probably my favorite relationship ever in a comedy, including such gems as the Sam/Diane romance from Cheers and the Dave/Lisa relationship on Newsradio. OK, maybe Tobias and Lindsay Funke from Arrested Development were more fun, but that's a totally different kind of relationship. Which is not to say that 30 Rock hasn't been terrific in its second and third seasons. How I Met Your Mother on CBS has been more spotty, but it still has episodes of great humor, and really, it's hard to go wrong with a comedy ensemble that includes Alyson Hanigan, Jason Segel and especially Neil Patrick Harris. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia started out its season really strong, but it kind of fell apart midseason and never really regained the funny. There were funny moments, but after the first couple hilarious episodes, it was merely OK this season. Finally, it's weird to put it in the comedy category but it doesn't really belong in the drama, but Pushing Daisies was a really good show, heartwarming and funny and clever. Unfortunately, it's quirkiness also meant its inevitable doom, and I confess that being robbed of any resolution of the various relationships on the show, including whether or not Emerson Codd will ever find his daughter, has left me lukewarm on the whole thing. I still have three episodes left on my DVR to watch, and I haven't been pulled back yet because I know there's no resolution there.

Favorite Drama: Lost (ABC)
There was a fair amount of competition for me in this category. Not in terms of numbers, because I don't watch the overwhelming majority of drama on TV, which usually breaks down to cop shows, lawyer shows and doctor shows (and I've had my fill of all three), but in terms of quality. Battlestar Galactica is, to my mind, still stumbling to the finish line. For every brilliant episode they had, there were two or three that I found almost unwatchable. And I'm not entirely convinced by the over-arcing story they're telling. Unlike Lost, it's a lot easier to tell the creators are making up the big story as they go along. Lost, however, definitely *is* being made up as it goes along, but it's being told better, and so it doesn't feel quite as forced, even if it is at times more convoluted. And the moment-to-moment action and suspense on Lost is terrific, perhaps because the stakes are smaller than on Galactica. On Lost, the worst things are happening to a relatively small group of castaways. On Battlestar Galactica, the fate of the entire human (and Cylon) races are at stake. Weirdly, the events on Lost feel more important despite the smaller stakes, while Galactica, being viewed through a prism of just a few people, feels smaller, like it only impacts the dozen characters we see.

But... two other dramas ended this year. The Wire and The Shield. The Wire might be better than Lost, except that I watched all of it, seasons one through five, for the first time, and it just doesn't seem fair to stack five seasons of a show up against one season of any others. The Shield ended well, but had a bit of rough going in the early part of the final season. But both are must-watches, and have probably spoiled me for ever watching any more cop shows. I hear good things about Life, but honestly... after The Shield and The Wire, plus a few years of NYPD Blue and Law & Order, I can't imagine it will offer up anything so new and different as to add something new to the genre for me.

Favorite Cartoon: Spectacular Spider-Man (FOX)
This one was easy. I love the new Batman Brave and the Bold, it's fun and full of guest stars and looks great, but Spectacular Spider-Man is to Spider-Man what the Dini/Timm animated series was to Batman. It's absolutely definitive, and gets the character better than 90% of the folks who have ever written the comic. Which is fairly impressive. Like the Batman Animated series, it incorporates elements from various different visions to create a perfect fusion of what the character should be. It's taking way too long to get a season one DVD set, and I'm really anxious for a second season, although I have no idea when that's coming.

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