Program of The Year
1. The X-Files
No other show on television gives off the vibe that The X-Files (Fox) does. Its tone is flat and even, as David Duchovny’s Fox Mulder and Gillian Anderson’s Dana Scully recite dialogue with a lack of emotion worthy of Dragnet‘s Jack Webb. At the same time, the show is always threatening to explode with suspense, as the unorthodox FBI team ponders supernatural imponderables. In any other medium, Duchovny and Anderson would come off as stylized and stiff. In the shadowy precincts of The X-Files, however, they are our anchors to reality; every eyebrow raised, every quaver of their voices, registers tremendous emotions. This season, the show managed to work around Anderson’s real-life pregnancy with witty adroitness, without losing the momentum it had during its debut year. The highest compliment I can pay The X- Files is that it gives you the feeling that, at any given moment, anything can happen — that there’s no subject that cannot be raised (the show has done a couple of remarkably frightening, non-exploitive episodes in which AIDS-like viruses invade healthy bodies), no spectre of dread that cannot be visualized (ooh, remember that really ooky slime-covered slug-man?).
2. The Simpsons (Fox) This show has gone through a slew of writers over the years, yet The Simpsons has remained remarkably faithful to the sensibility of creator Matt Groening: It is deeply skeptical about the possibility of a healthy, loving family unit, but never willing to give up on the idea. In recent seasons, the plots often revolved around doofus-dad Homer; this season, the focus has returned to Bart — his mischievousness, his low self-esteem, his gift for verbal abuse (playing cowboys and Indians with Lisa, he dubbed her ”She Who Thinks Too Much”). The episode in which Bart endured his first major crush — on a pretty, wicked little girl whose voice was supplied by Meryl Streep — was a brief masterpiece of unrequited love. There — and I didn’t even have to remind you that this is a cartoon.
3. NYPD Blue (ABC) Jimmy Smits moved into the locker vacated by — what was that guy’s name? — with uncommon aplomb, and NYPD Blue has managed to remain the tensest show on TV, juggling crime investigations and romantic entanglements with equal skill. I still don’t fully buy the notion of Sipowicz and assistant DA Costas as the romance of the century, but Justine Miceli’s Detective Lesniak may well prove to be the show’s most complex female character.
4. Late Show With David Letterman (CBS) Oh sure, we could once again summon up memories of the way Dave transfixed America with this year’s surreal summit meeting with Madonna, but in retrospect, that wasn’t even Letterman at his best. What those of us with a Dave jones crave are those guestless, Letterman- alone moments when, seated at his desk, he’ll look over at Paul Shaffer and say, ”Hey, Paul, what’s the deal with this Zima crap?” David Letterman, the voice of a generation.
5. The Larry Sanders Show (HBO) This season, Garry Shandling came perilously close to one of the worst traps of intelligent comedy: jokes so smart they aren’t funny. This tragedy was averted by the belly laugh-inspiring stupidity of sidekick Hank (Jeffrey Tambor), the ripe vulgarity of producer Artie (Rip Torn), and Larry/Garry’s own curdled expressiveness.