TV Power Rankings 2008

It’s been nine months since the writers’ strike shook up the entertainment industry – forcing some shows to shut down production for the rest of the season and leaving others to scramble for survival – and television still isn’t the same. Many of our favorite shows have yet to return to form (here’s looking at you “Heroes”), while some (like Power Rankings newcomer and new #1, “Mad Men”) have risen to the occasion and helped fill the void. If there’s any pattern to this year’s TV Power Rankings, however, it’s that there is none. While NBC’s reign in the top 10 continues, a dozen of the 20 shows below didn’t make the cut last year, and nine of those 12 are making their Power Rankings debut (“The Shield,” “The Daily Show” and “Family Guy” have popped up in previous editions). Still think the writers’ strike didn’t have a lasting effect? Think again.

Below you’ll find some sample entries, but be sure to check out the full list, where you’ll also find links to DVD reviews and interviews, as well as some Honorable Mentions and our list of favorite shows currently on hiatus.

1. Mad Men

In any sane world, Matthew Weiner’s “Mad Men” would not be on any “power ranking,” much less in the #1 spot. This supremely stylish drama about the alcohol-soaked, nicotine-stained, sexual harassment and adultery-friendly lives of early ‘60s advertising execs started out as a low-profile curiosity from a former member of the writing staff of “The Sopranos.” Still, with some help from ecstatic reviews and the Emmys, the show has emerged as first-class appointment TV and a launch pad for at least one potential superstar in Jon Hamm. As the metaphysically secretive Don Draper, Hamm knocks back too many Old Fashioneds while casually invoking the sort of grown-up masculine charisma of classic era film stars Gregory Peck and William Holden. Better yet, Season Two saw the show’s large and very strong cast of supporting characters become even stronger and more layered as the subject matter grew bolder. A semi-surreal late-season left turn with a roving band of wealthy Euro-bohemians was just the tip of the iceberg as rape, nuclear annihilation, religion and the meaning of existence were broached, with vaguely disturbing yet highly entertaining and sexy results. “Mad Men” cannot be pegged, and that’s the best thing about it.

11. How I Met Your Mother

We were close. We were so damned close. Creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas had teased us for three years, but we were sure that Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor) had finally found the mother of his kids in Stella Zinman (Sarah Chalke). Of course, as we now know, we were wrong, but it was a hell of a ride getting there. Last season, “How I Met Your Mother” found the largest audience of its history as a result of scoring a pair of guest appearances by the superstar train wreck that is Britney Spears. And, even more impressively, she was really funny. Greeted with these new viewers, the series rose to the challenge of keeping them on, offering us Ted and Stella’s courtship, Robin’s rebound relationships, Marshall looking for work, Lily dealing with her credit crisis, and Barney banging as many babes as possible. We’re still not sure about this new wrinkle that Barney’s pining for Robin, but we trust that Bays and Thomas won’t turn it into a jump-the-shark situation. Or if they do, they’ll do it with a knowing wink and a smile.

17. Sons of Anarchy

If you took all the best parts of “The Sopranos” and “The Shield” and smashed them into one show, you’d have something that looks a lot like “Sons of Anarchy.” Created by “The Shield” co-writer and executive producer Kurt Sutter, the series is more Shakespearean than anything on television. It’s essentially a retelling of “Hamlet,” but instead of Danish royalty, they’re a California biker gang. There’s Jax (Charlie Hunnam), the second-in-command; his mother, Gemma (Katey Sagal), the very definition of a queen bee; and his step dad Clay (Ron Perlman), the club’s hard-nosed president and best friend of Jax’s deceased father. Heck, there’s even an Ophelia in the group – Wendy (“The Sopranos” alum Drea de Matteo), the drug-addicted mother of Jax’s newborn son. The theme of family and brotherhood is something that was explored in great length in both “The Sopranos” and “The Shield,” and it’s the driving force behind “Sons of Anarchy.” Add to that a supporting cast made up of some of the best tough guy character actors in the business (Tommy Flanagan, Mark Boone Junior and Kim Coates) and a multi-episode guest stint by Jay Karnes and you’re looking at a top nominee for Best New Show of the Season.