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The Year in TV

Posted by Joanna Weiss  December 31, 2008 11:03 AM

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Happy New Year, everyone, and greetings from the world of poopy diapers! In case you missed it, here's Matthew's take on the state of television this year. I promised I'd emerge from my maternity fog to blog a bit before the new year, so here's my own list of the best TV of 2008, in no particular order...

"Saturday Night Live"

Most of the sketches are still hit-or-miss, but the political skits were pure brilliance, and I'd argue they had a real impact on the election campaign. Biggest props go to Tina Fey's command performance as Sarah Palin, but honorable mentions go to Jason Sudeikis (as both Joe Biden and Todd Palin) and Amy Poehler for her very pregnant Palin rap, and for a Hillary Clinton impression that had pathos, if not perfection.

"Battlestar Galactica" mid-season finale

The penultimate season of the SciFi series was a bit uneven, but the mid-season finale that aired in June was terrific TV, from its complex score to its tenser-than-tense airlock scene to its ending homage to "Planet of the Apes." Can't wait for the final stretch -- though I'll be miserable when this series is finally over.

"The Shield"

This FX police drama is finally over, and it will go down in history as a seminal series for basic cable -- one that helped to prove that, late enough at night, a network like FX could venture into the dark terrorities once reserved for the premium channels. Full disclosure: The presence of an infant in the house has kept me from getting through the final stretch of episodes. But the ones I've seen are terrific, and I've heard -- though please don't spoil me -- that the finale is phenomenal.

"Gossip Girl"

I'll admit it: It took me awhile to fully groove on this CW series, since I kept getting hung up on the fact that the high-schoolers act more like world-weary 40-year-olds. But after watching an increasingly fun season, I've decided that "Gossip Girl" isn't a high school soap at all, but a 19th-century-style comedy of manners. The eye candy gets all of the attention, but it's the scripts that deserve the most praise: They're funny and raunchy and literate at once. Special props to Ed Westwick as Chuck Bass, who ought to be detestable, but kind of has a heart.

"The Wire"

If "Gossip Girl" is Austen, "The Wire" is Dickens: a complex, convoluted, deep, rich, difficult, and satisfying serial that never won a giant audience, but will go down in history as one of the top examples of high-quality TV. David Simon's sprawling HBO series also saw its final season this year, and it was full of gems. I defy anyone to find a sadder moment on serial TV than the scene where Michael and Dukie say goodbye. And the scenes in the Baltimore Sun newsroom were the most accurate depictions of newspaper life I've seen on TV.

"Dexter"

Once again, Showtime's serial killer series was one of TV's most dependably good hours, and I credit the writers for finding new ways to advance the storyline each season. I loved watching Jimmy Smits playing someone twitchy and crazy. As always, Michael C. Hall was brilliant. And I agree with Matthew that Jennifer Carpenter is funny, unpredictable, and always a joy to watch.

"So You Think You Can Dance"

OK, I have no idea whether this was the best season -- it's just the season I discovered and fell in love with Fox's summertime reality contest. As a showcase for pure talent, "SYTYCD" puts "American Idol" to shame and makes "Dancing With the Stars" look like a fourth-grade recital. The dancers are terrific, but the true stars are the choreographers. And executive producer/judge Nigel Lythgoe, who just abandoned his "American Idol" duties to concentrate on this show, makes sure everyone gets his or her due.

"Lost"

Mark 2008 as the year "Lost" got its mojo back. It goes to show you what an end date and a few crazy flash-forwards can do.

"Mad Men"

AMC's stylish series about life and advertising in the 1960s doubled its audience this year, and continued to serve up thought-provoking episodes about gender relations in an era of change. It was slow-paced, sometimes maddening, and a bit pretentious at times, but it was also exquisitely realized.

Sarah Palin

No, she's not a series, but she was a television phenomenon this fall, and whether you loved or hated her, she gave you plenty to talk about. There was her captivating speech at the Republican National Convention; her disastrous interviews with Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric; her spirited debate with Joe Biden; her good-natured appearance on Saturday Night Live. And even after the election was over, she continued to give the cable networks ample fodder for reporting and speculation. The election was a great story across the board, but Palin took the campaign drama from interesting to sublime.

Here's Matthew's list, also linked with his story above:

1. Campaign Humor: Tina Fey as Sarah Palin (NBC), "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart" (Comedy Central), "The Colbert Report" (Comedy Central), "The Rachel Maddow Show" (MSNBC), and Sarah Silverman's "The Great Schlep" (online)

2. "Mad Men" (AMC)

3. "Lost" (ABC)

4. "In Treatment" (HBO)

5. "Dexter" (Showtime)

6. Sitcom Saviors: "30 Rock" (NBC), "How I Met Your Mother" (CBS), and "Californication" (Showtime)

7. "Friday Night Lights" (DirecTV)

8. "Masterpiece": "Cranford" and "My Boy Jack" (PBS)

9. David Simon: "Generation Kill" and the final season of "The Wire" (HBO)

10. Helpless Addictions: "True Blood" (HBO) and "Gossip Girl" (CW)

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5 comments so far...
  1. House is a notable omission from this list. It remains TV's best show bar none.

    Posted by mray January 1, 09 01:56 AM
  1. Agree on House.

    SYTYCD is a phenomenal show and I also discovered it this past season. Puts AI to shame and as much as I'd like to get in on the DWTS, never could and probably never will. I wish they would put SYTYCD on during the fall/winter season as I think it would fare much better and overtake AI as America's favorite talent show!! The judging is incredible and the entire format of the show is perfect and I hope they don't change a thing. Why mess with perfection????

    Posted by causewaychaos January 1, 09 12:45 PM
  1. How I Met Your Mother is not on the list and it should be. The "Naked Man" episode is pure genius.

    Posted by Tub January 2, 09 10:50 AM
  1. I am still dedicating my #1 favorite show as the Office. As funny as ever.

    Posted by Jess January 2, 09 11:28 AM
  1. I love "How I Met Your Mother" (especially "Naked Man") and "The Office," but both were a little inconsistent this year to make my list. And while I appreciate "House," I don't love it quite the same way - though I respect dissenting opinions!

    Posted by Joanna January 3, 09 02:14 PM
 

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Katie McLeod is Boston.com's features editor.

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