2008: The Year in TV – Will Harris

Once the writer’s strike was over, the television industry got back to business with a vengeance, offering up quite a lot of high quality material…so much, in fact, that my TiVo is STILL loaded down with shows I just haven’t had the time to watch. Seriously, I’ve got three episodes of “My Boys” that I’ve been sitting on since July. There just aren’t enough hours in the day…and I’m a full-time TV critic, for God’s sake! But here’s at least some of the stuff that I dug and despised during the course of 2008…and sometime around 2012, maybe I can offer up a complete picture of 2009.

TOP 3 SHOWS

1. “The Big Bang Theory,” CBS

No other sophomore series came roaring out of the gate like this one. Fears that the show had already jumped the shark by getting Leonard and Penny together were dismissing before the end of the second-season premiere, the addition of Sara Gilbert to the cast was an added bonus, and the suggestion that Sheldon is a sex object to physics geeks is almost too funny for words. Mark my words: this is the year that Jim Parsons earns his first Emmy nomination.

2. “30 Rock,” NBC
There’s no truth to the rumor that you can’t be a member of the Television Critics Association if you don’t like “30 Rock,” but, really, what’s not to like? Tina Fey is both gorgeous and hilarious, Alec Baldwin can’t open his mouth without getting a laugh, and, come to think of it, there’s really no-one in this ensemble who isn’t funny. So why do they keep bringing on all of these guest stars? Beats me. But since they incorporate them so well into the episodes, it’s hard to complain.

3. “Life on Mars,” ABC
When I did my 2008 Fall TV Preview, I hadn’t yet seen the pilot for this series, but if I had, it would’ve beaten out “Fringe” for the top spot on my list of new shows I was most excited about. Rising above its “based on a British series” origins, “Life on Mars” has one of the strongest casts on television (Jason O’Mara, Harvey Keitel, Michael Imperioli, Gretchen Mol, and Jonathan Murphy), a great premise (a police detective gets knocked unconscious in 2008 and wakes up in 1973), and – perhaps most impressively – managed to survive its network’s recent purge of quality dramas. For God’s sake, don’t let it go the way of “Pushing Daisies.” If you haven’t watched it yet, it’s not too late.

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2008: The Year in TV – Mike Farley

I claim to not watch much TV, but when Mr. Harris asked me to contribute to this piece, it was as easy as anything I’ve ever written. I guess that since we had our first child in 2007, we have been busy in the evenings after he goes to sleep–sitting in front of the TV enjoying what some great shows have to offer, and sometimes not-so-great shows. Don’t go taking my cable away!

TOP 3 SHOWS

1. “Weeds,” Showtime

My wife and I ordered Showtime just for the three months or so that “Weeds” was on this past summer. You’d think a complete change of scenery (after most of the city of Agrestic burned down, Nancy and her family headed South to just above Mexico) would deter the plots and sub-plots, but it only made the show more compelling. There is no better writing on TV than there is for this show, and you can pretty much say that the acting mirrors the writing. The cliffhanger in the finale was not like the wild ones of the last few seasons, but Nancy’s ultrasound photo was enough to leave us all wondering how Esteban could possibly kill her after she ratted out their whole underground operation. Season 5 can’t start soon enough.

2. “Two and a Half Men,” CBS
What “Weeds” is to drama/comedies on premium channels, “Two and a Half Men” is to network sitcoms. The writing is always witty, appropriate for the characters and downright knee-slapping. Seriously, there were a few moments this season that made me hyperventilate laughing so hard. And they continue to push the envelope, as they did when Charlie referred to Alan’s ex-wife giving him a, uh, present, under a table as a book, “Under the Table” by Richard Gobbler. And Jake’s flatulence jokes never get old, either.

3. “Diners, Drive Ins and Dives,” Food Network
The Food Network is milking Guy Fieri for everything he’s worth. The guy has like four or five shows now, and this one is his calling card. Dude has one of the best jobs on television. He cruises around in his classic red convertible, and gets to sample the best food at, well, diners, drive-ins, and dives. We all want to taste everything on every show…well, except for the fried cow testicles or pig ear sandwiches…blech. But seriously, this show is a few seasons in and shows no signs of slowing down….especially on my TiVo box.

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2008: The Year in TV – Jeff Giles

TOP 3 SHOWS

1. “Lost,” ABC

After two seasons of listening to viewers bitch about everything from too many characters to plots not moving fast enough, the “Lost” writers whomped us all over the head with a run of episodes that was better than anything fans had seen since Season One. Many of the show’s most important riddles were answered – or at least what we thought were its most important riddles, because now there’s a whole new list of them to answer. Not even that damn writers’ strike was enough to put much of a dent in this season of “Lost” — and not even the new Fray single playing in the background is enough to keep us from geeking out over the Season Five promos that ABC recently started airing.

2. “The Office,” NBC
Few network shows – and zero sitcoms – have played as fast and loose with their casts as “The Office”; whether it’s Oscar going on “gaycation,” Andy entering anger management counseling, Jim transferring to Stamford, Toby fleeing to Costa Rica, or Pam wandering off to art school in New York, you never know who’s going to move off-canvas for a spell – kind of like your actual workplace environment. It’s this grounding – along with one of the best casts and some of the strongest comedy writing on television – that helps keep “The Office” from getting stale, and allows it to transcend such stereotypically show-killing plot devices as the star-crossed couple (in this case, Jim and Pam) that finally gets together. Of course, it helps when said couple isn’t even the hottest pairing on the show: this season, Dwight and Angela’s secret warehouse liaisons have proven that even a Second Life-playing, beet-farming paper salesman can get his mojo rising every once in awhile.

3. “Friday Night Lights,” DirecTV
Unless you have DirecTV, you haven’t seen any of “FNL’s” third season – and you won’t until early 2009, under the terms of a unique cost-sharing deal that saved the show from cancellation…for now, anyway. It certainly remains to be seen how non-DTV fans of the show will deal with this arrangement – if, for instance, they’ve managed to keep from spoiling the entire season in advance with recaps posted on the Web – or whether NBC will deign to promote content that’s already aired elsewhere. In the meantime, however, here’s what we can tell you: the third season of “Friday Night Lights” packs all of the addictive small-town drama and pulse-pounding gridiron action of Season One, minus the unwelcome addition of stupidly soapy ingredients that weakened Season Two (in other words, nobody’s throwing any bodies off bridges). We’ll be very surprised if “FNL” returns for a fourth season – on any network – but we’ve still got our fingers crossed.

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2008: The Year in TV – Ross Ruediger

Unfortunately I’m the kind of guy who’s lousy at making lists, because I always feel I’m going to leave off something important. So this year, my list is the shortest so it’s obvious I left many things off. It was a pretty good year for TV, and with so many good shows bidding adieu, I worry that next year’s list will be short simply because there won’t be enough quality stuff to fill it out.

TOP 3 SHOWS

1. “Torchwood,” BBC America

Normally, “Doctor Who” would take the top spot on my year-end round up of favorite shows, but this year the spin-off series “Torchwood” was so strong that I’m giving it up to Captain Jack. Its sophomore season navigated an intense and fresh sci-fi vibe that was perfect for the here and now. The thing is that at this point both series (along with the more kiddie-oriented “The Sarah Jane Adventures”) have all become slices of one another. It’s the “Who”-niverse…and in order to see the bigger picture, one must be aware of every facet. The three series work apart from each other, yet gel into a whole via awareness. In any case, this year “Torchwood” delivered stronger material than Season Four of “Who,” which, while refreshing, is a trend I’d like to see reversed once Steven Moffat begins guiding the Doctor in 2010.

2. “Boston Legal,” ABC
After a somewhat tepid fourth season, the halls of Crane, Poole & Schmidt came roaring back to life for an abbreviated 13-episode final season. Nearly every installment this year has been a keeper, and David E. Kelley has done a fantastic job of balancing his usual political grandstanding with eloquent moments of character-driven drama and comedy. At the time of writing, the 2-hour series finale has yet to be unveiled, but there isn’t any reason to believe it’s going to be anything short of an ideal sendoff for James Spader, William Shatner, and Candice Bergen. The show began life as a spin-off of “The Practice“; now, if only the TV gods would allow Kelley to spin a series off “Boston Legal” that follows the relationship of Jerry Espenson (Christian Clemenson) and Katie Lloyd (Tara Summers), I’d be perfectly content to see this show ride off into the sunset.

3. “The Shield,” FX
For some reason, it almost seems easy to want to dismiss the end of the saga of Vic Mackey…but, really, that would be just plain wrong. Shawn Ryan and his cohorts have steadily delivered under-the-radar goods for 7 seasons, and the missteps have been few and far between along the way. I’m not going to miss “The Shield” like I would many a show that’s wrapping things up…like “Boston Legal,” for instance. No, this show ended at exactly the right time and on exactly the right series of corrupt, violent notes. But speaking of spin-offs, who wouldn’t want to see a half-hour cop comedy series centered around Dutch Wagenbach (Jay Karnes) and Steve Billings (David Marciano)? OK, perhaps that’s a tad over the top, so I’ll settle for a drama focused solely on Dutch, who’s had the good sense to move as far away from Farmington as possible.

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2008: The Year in TV – Jason Thompson

You love TV, I love TV, we all love TV! Actually, I am going to start calling it “tee-wee” like my main man Chuck Barris used to on “The Gong Show.” And while I found some groovy stuff for you all to enjoy on the idiot box, the ones I couldn’t take anymore are certainly worth a triple, simultaneous gonging from Arte Johnson, J.P. Morgan, and Jamie Farr. So sit back and tune in to my top three selections for ’08.

TOP 3 SHOWS

1. “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” FX

I may be late to this particular party, but as the saying goes, better late than never. This season found the gang at Paddy’s Pub tackling the serious, groundbreaking issues that they never shied away from in the past. Cannibalism, killing one’s father, and rewriting the history of the Liberty Bell itself were just a few of the topics explored this year. Charlie Day may be the funniest comedic actor on TV currently, and Danny DeVito excels as greasy schemer Frank Reynolds to the point where he may even outshine his stint as Louie DePalma on “Taxi.” This is undoubtedly the funniest show on TV these days, and certainly belongs next to other cult faves like “Arrested Development” and “Flight of the Conchords.”

2. “Burn Notice,” USA
This show climbs its way up a notch from third place on my list from last year. Jeffrey Donovan returned as Michael Westen, former spy who has been burned by an unknown operative. This season found Michael getting even closer to the truth while continuing to help out his old buddy Sam (Bruce Campbell) on his never-ending side missions to right the wrongs brought upon other innocent people. The lovely Gabrielle Anwar also returned as Michael’s former love interest/ass-kicker Fiona, and Sharon Gless also reprised her role as Michael’s mother, perhaps one of the best characters she’s ever played. For seriously exciting action scenes filled with plenty of examples of how you, too, can create your own spy gadgets out of everyday things, plus just the right amount of comedy thrown on top, “Burn Notice” is tops. And the best part of all is that the third season will actually debut this winter, so fans won’t have to wait for its usual summer slot.

3. “Chuck,” NBC
This show got an honorable mention from me last year, but this time out it proudly sits in the number three position. The second season of this hit series proved the first was no fluke. “Chuck” has top notch writers working behind it, making every week’s episode some classic NBC Must See fare. Like “Burn Notice,” “Chuck” mixes tasty action with laughs, and Zachary Levi as the title character is an even more likable schlub than Jim on “The Office.” But it wouldn’t be “Chuck” without Adam Baldwin and Yvonne Strahovsky as special agents John Casey and Sarah Walker. Baldwin’s tough guy act is as laugh out loud funny as Levi’s performance as an average Joe mixed up in crazy caper routines, while Strahovsky proves time and again that she’s not just a gorgeous face but a rock solid actress as well. May Chuck have the Intersect embedded in his brain for a few more seasons to come.

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