What follows are the 10 best things I saw on TV this year. I’m behind the curve in a couple of cases (only up to season 2 of House, for example), but that’s because TV is just part of my entertainment life. There are nights when I never power up the monster with the glass eye at all, preferring those antique but amusing inventions called ”books.” And you’ll notice that sitcoms are not my thing. Neither are horny housewives with $200 hairdos. With those caveats out of the way, here we go.
10. Dead Set
British and not available on DVD in the States yet, but if you’re a horror fan, you won’t want to miss it when it is. Zombies overrun England (and the rest of the world), trapping the remaining contestants of Big Brother on their set. This send-up of reality TV is bloody, raunchy, grisly fun.
9. Harper’s Island
An unknown killer picks off good-looking young folks one by one in this retro hoot. Harper‘s was a jolly mix of Agatha Christie and Friday the 13th…with a touch of Saw thrown in. What a shame it won’t be back. Any series where Harry Hamlin gets cut in half while hanging from a bridge is worth a renewal; think what they could have done with David Hasselhoff.
8. The Rachel Maddow Show
As Keith Olbermann inflates into a dirigible of outrage (not without reason), Maddow grows more insightful. She’s smart, amusing, and willing to look at both sides of political arguments. It doesn’t hurt that she’s pretty in a no-nonsense way.
The jury’s still out on FF, but the question that lies at the heart of the series — are our lives ruled by fate, coincidence, or some strange combination of the two? — pulls me in week after week. I wish they’d stop with the corny music montages, though. If I really feel in need of jerking a tear or two, I’ll dice an onion and make myself a hamburger.
Okay, so every episode is essentially the same (crisis at the end of Act 1, House’s ”aha!” moment during Act 4), but the dialogue snaps, and House’s arrogance occasionally reaches Shakespearean heights. The man’s a boor but never a bore.
5. Sons of Anarchy
It’s got that Shield vibe (Jay Karnes, the ex-Detective Wagenbach, even shows up as a rogue ATF agent), but the drama is enlivened by a working-class criminal story reminiscent of a certain long-running HBO Mob series. Call it The Sopranos on Harleys. And Ron Perlman rocks.
This powerhouse FX series stars Glenn Close and the ever-more-impressive Rose Byrne as two of the most conniving shysters to light up American TV screens. The most remarkable thing about Damages? The stories themselves, which are complex, suspenseful, and often cynical to the point of cruelty. Far better than Mad Men, in your Uncle Stevie’s humble opinion.
As it moves toward a conclusion, this groundbreaking drama has regained its momentum…and its heart. At its best, Lost has never been about a fantasy island floating unmoored in time; it’s been about the people.
Was season 7 ridiculous? Yes! Were the Stone Age politics as boring as ever? Undoubtedly. But was it also riveting, like a really great old-school action movie? It totally was. Kiefer Sutherland is stalwart, Mary Lynn Rajskub is as delightful as a wedge of lemon in a glass of iced tea, and Cherry Jones is the best president since Dennis (“Are you in good hands?”) Haysbert. What’s easy to overlook about 24 is that it has solved all the problems of the ”continuing story” series seemingly without breaking a sweat.
1. Breaking Bad
The show I called the best series of 2008 has now become the best of the 21st century. Bryan Cranston’s fierce portrayal of Everyman teacher/schlub Walter White continues to amaze, and Aaron Paul shines as Jesse Pinkman, a sorcerer’s apprentice who gets sucked into a deadly partnership. Series creator Vince Gilligan has opened a window on a world where planes fall from the sky and meth tweakers are crushed beneath stolen ATMs. BB is brilliant, terrifying, shocking, and sometimes screamingly funny. What started as an indictment of the drug culture and America’s shoddy treatment of those who fall victim to catastrophic illnesses has morphed into an examination of the American dream itself: shiny and addictive on top, hollow at the core. And dark. Very dark.