Best of the year? Sure. But I prefer to think of these as the shows I was or am hesitant about deleting from TiVo.
The Wire. Its not new, its in its third season, and has hardly any visibility even though its an HBO Sunday-night show so who knows if itll be around for a fourth. But with cops this smart and screwed up, criminals this shrewd and human, and politicians this snide and conflicted, its still the best damn chessboard on TV.
Little Britain/Nighty Night. Britains latest comedy sensations actually hopped the pond fairly quickly, on BBC America and Oxygen, respectively, giving hope to the half-hour comedy format that seems to be dying under the weight of fat man/skinny wife scenarios. Little Britain may be time-honored men-in-wigs-and-frocks silliness, but its an actors showcase, too, for creators Matt Lucas and David Walliams,who show a deft touch with character comedy. Nighty Night, meanwhile, is a brittlely hilarious masterpiece of all things taboo, a dark-hearted soap about obsession that should make us all very afraid of what writer/star Julia Davis dreams up next.
State of Play. And what do you know, the U.K. gave us the most pulse-pounding and dramatically satisfying miniseries of the year, too, with this precision-timed conspiracy thriller about a corrupt governmental energy policy, adultery, murder and heroic journalism. Bill Nighys sardonically chivalric big-city editor is so invigorating and boldly entertaining it should be brewed by Guinness and sold in pubs.
The Amazing Race. The hottest speculative question among reality-TV watchers is no longer how youd handle yourself in Trumps boardroom, or who youd vote off the island. Its who youd team up with to crisscross the globe on this Emmy-winning nail biter of a game show. And any program that makes a point of flinging stodgy, sometimes-ugly Americans into foreign cultures and forcing them to make nice to get around is doing a public service.
Veronica Mars. When the preponderance of procedural shows started draining the fun out of solving crimes, along came the maligned teen genre to give it some life. After all, arent questions like "Why am I not more popular?" "Why wont he/she look at me?" and "Is everyone a freak?" the real mysteries we want answers to?
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Deadwood. Arguing over whether people of the 19th-century American West actually swore with Shakespearean flexibility is beside the point. Its hardly a Western, either, in the way any of us have ever known it. Its a funky, sad, bitingly funny, disturbing examination of the nuts and bolts of city building, and of how law and order is negotiated where none previously existed. With standout performances from Ian McShane, Timothy Olyphant, Brad Dourif, Robin Weigert and Powers Boothe, this also may be the best ensemble on the tube.
Wonderfalls. Fox may have the ugly reputation of stealing other networks reality-TV ideas, but they seem to be able to take risks putting fresh comedies and dramas on the air, like this eccentric doodad about an underachieving shop girl with reluctant Good Samaritan powers. Why kill it, then, before the viewership had a chance to make sense of it, especially when it had no chance in a Friday-night time slot? Sure, therell be a DVD of its criminally short run come February, but thats a small and increasingly frustating consolation.
Desperate Housewives. "Ah, see," ABC says. "This is what we like. Its an obvious hit! It started like gangbusters, and increased in viewership from week to week! Six Feet Under got too weird, right? And Sex and the City got too clinical, huh? Well, were all about balance in the big leagues! So for all the suicide, murder and earnest female solidarity, well also throw in slapstick, hot sex and one-liners!" Yes, this is the show where you go "Okay, okay, Ill like you," and kind of mean it.
The Daily Show. Jon Stewart likes to act bewildered when told that his show is a real news source for a lot of people. Well, theres nothing to be ashamed of. When the major news media cease to even acknowledge the near-daily absurdity coming from our elected leaders and their appointees, then what Stewart and company are doing qualifies as accuracy. Heartbreakingly funny accuracy, and at times freakishly scary accuracy.