Mad Men, Glee, Daily Show among my top TV shows for 2009
This isn't just my holiday spirit talking; a look at the wide array of TV shows available to us in 2009 does reveal some duds -- insert gratuitous Jay Leno Show joke here -- but the list of kicking shows was so solid, I had the first five programs on my list chosen before my pen hit the paper.
So, to start your holiday week with a debate, here's my list of Best TV shows of 2009:
1) Mad Men -- The best combination of layered, subtle storytelling, relentlessly detailed (some might say hellishly anal-retentive) period production values and world class acting. What is not said on this show is nearly as important as what gets said, as creator Matthew Weiner allows viewers to discover on their own what is going on in the surprisingly complex lives of characters connected to a '60s-era Madison Avenue advertising firm.
2) Dexter -- Neck and neck with Mad Men, Showtime's series about a serial killer of killers was held from my top spot for two reasons; a slow start this season which made the first four episodes a bit of an ordeal, and a storytelling style which puts almost all of its character material on the surface. There is little to puzzle out about the characters here, as Michael C. Hall's secret killer and Miami police forensic technicians Dexter Morgan squared off again an amazing creation, a serial killer with a 30-year track record called the Trinity Killer and given a layered, crafty life by expert thespian John Lithgow. All that said, I love Dexter's search to understand himself as an allegory for men trying to understand all the underhanded, crazy stuff we sometimes do.
3) Glee -- Creator Ryan Murphy should get a special Emmy award just for figuring out how to present elaborate musical production numbers on TV in a way that was not only tolerable, but hooked a new generation on classic hits such as Don't Stop Believing and Dancing with Myself. And while building the story of the most hilariously dysfunctional glee club in high school history, he also created an unforgettable villain in ruthlessly bitter, yet surprisingly vulnerable cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester.
4) Breaking Bad -- Star Bryan Cranston is long way from his slapstick sitcom past as the bumbling dad in Malcom in the Middle, providing a riveting portrayal of a middling man sliding into a ravine of desperation. As a cancer-stricken high school chemistry teacher who turns to making and selling methamphetamine to secure his family's finances, Walt White has morphed from frightened everyman to ruthless competitor, taking us all on a spellbinding ride.
5) Battlestar Galactica - In the way The Sopranos reinvented the Mob drama, Sci Fi channel's re-imagining of the classic '70s adventure series rebooted the science fiction drama on television. They may have been a small band of humans fighting a machine race in spaceships, but Galactica was much more about what makes us all human -- evoking everything from the culture wars to the Iraq war in a broad storyline which ended this year with the heroes landing on this Earth long in the past.
6) Modern Family -- Just when critics pronounced the TV sitcom dead, ABC nailed this deliciously absurd comedy about an extended family's three off shoots. From a middle-aged dad who thinks breaking into High School Musical numbers around his kids' friends is cool, to the older patriarch who keeps getting mistaken for his young wife's dad, the characters are deliriously unaware of their own dysfunction and acutely aware of all others' -- a perfect combination.
7) The Daily Show -- I write this series' name every year. But it just keeps raising the bar on political satire crossing into real world revelation -- highlighting how Fox News Channel host Sean Hannity manipulated video footage to make a Tea Party protest look larger and noting how Fox and Friends host Gretchen Carlson is an honors graduate from Stanford who acts as if she need to look up wordsl ike "czar" in the dictionary. In a media-drenched world filled with so much deception, host Jon Stewart and company provide a fearless watchdog unfettered by journalism's need for balance.
8) Hoarders -- It's been called the most realistic depiction of mental illness on television; A&E's devastating look at people who can't stop collecting things, even if its rotting food, mildewy clothes or cats, provides a potent look at the interior lives of folks caught in a debilitating compulsion. Piercing a world shrouded in shame and evasion, this series highlights the complexity of a disorder historically dismissed as laziness or simply slobbery.
9) Nurse Jackie -- Another Showtime gem, offering Sopranos alum Edie Falco as a brassy, principled emergency room nurse who also has a raging painkiller habit and an extramarital affair. If there's a criticism here, it's that creator don't give us much of a reason for Jackie Peyton's enormous personal inconsistencies, or much of a clue how she landed where we find her. Here's hoping both deficiencies are addressed next season.
10) Sons of Anarchy -- Snubbed for Golden Globe nominations this year, FX's ferocious drama about a ruthless California motorcycle gang will just have to content itself with ratings that beat Jay Leno on some nights and its most creative season ever. Guest stars Adam Arkin and Henry Rollins were masterful as white supremacists bent of driving the motorcycle gang out of their sleepy Southern California town, while Katey Sagal's gang matriarch Gemma Morrow had her most substantial storyline yet, surviving a gang rape by the Neo-Nazis and keeping it secret to avoid pushing the club into a reckless offensive.