While I was hesitant to put together a list of my favorite films of 2008 because I haven’t seen nearly enough of them, I have no such qualms about posting this corresponding list of my favorite television shows of the year, as I watch way too much TV. The one show you will not find on this list is Mad Men. I hate Mad Men. I think it’s the most overrated show on television. Also, there are some SPOILERS AHEAD if you aren’t caught up to the most current episodes of these series. And with that, here’s my list:
1. The Shield: My top two show are both police dramas, but could not be more different. The Shield may be a fantasy compared to the hyper-realistic The Wire, but, damn, if it isn’t compelling. The Shield ended it’s 7-year run with a bang. In Vic Mackey’s quest to remain out of prison, he managed to throw away everything and everyone he cared about. Mackey finally confessing all his sins was the best, most powerful scene of 2008. And if you want confirmation that the Emmys and Golden Globes are total embarrassments at this point, look no further than their refusal to nominate Walton Goggins for best supporting actor. His performance as Shane Vandrell, this year especially, was always enthralling.
2. The Wire: This is kind of unfair. Over the past year, I’ve watched all 5 seasons of The Wire. So it’s hard for me to separate season 5 from the first 4. That being said, I did love season 5. And it was great to see Clark Johnson in front of the camera again.
3. Pushing Daisies: I’m not a big procedural fan, but those that I do love have two things in common: serial elements/overarching stories and an interesting hook. Pushing Daisies has both of those things in abundance. When Pushing Daisies premiered, I think everyone thought “Oh, it looks like Tim Burton made a TV show.” But it became something truly original and unique. And while it certainly wasn’t for everyone (as evidenced by the ratings), television will be less without it. Pushing Daisies had it’s own weird, color-saturated, storybook universe, and I savored every minute I got to spend in it.
4. Battlestar Galactica: They find earth… and it’s irradiated wasteland! Humanity is screwed! Even if you’re not a sci-fi fan, Battlestar always brings great human drama.
5. The Daily Show/The Colbert Report: In an election year, the combo of TDS and TCR are a must-watch every night. Colbert was especially good playing a conservative commentator trying to (poorly) contain his disgust for John McCain.
6. The Office: I think the debate is over. The UK Office may have been the first, but the US Office is the better series. It’s in it’s fifth year and so far this season has been it’s best. I watch every episode twice (thank you DVR) because the first time through I’m constantly laughing so hard that I miss some of the dialogue. They also get major points for managing to put Jim and Pam together without ruining the show.
7. Lost: Lost’s had some hiccups over the years, but the major flaw was always that the flashbacks were rarely as interesting as the story on the island. This season the writing team fixed that problem by switching from flashbacks to flashforwards. Was this season perfect? No. But it was pretty close and had a very satisfying season finale.
8. The Unit: Have you ever thought, “Ya know, I love 24, but it’s not intense enough for me”? Then “The Unit” is the show for you. David Mamet and Shawn Ryan, creator of The Shield, week in and week out deliver some of the most edge-of-your-seat action of any show on television. It’s almost like a realistic version of The A-Team. It’s sad that this show gets lost among all of CBS’s procedurals.
9. Fringe: Halfway through the first part of this season, I was afraid Fringe was in danger of already becoming a parody of itself. Every week it seemed Walter Bishop’s past was somehow tied to another freaky-deaky case in the present and Joshua Jackson’s one-liners were getting lamer and lamer. But then the writers seemed to recognize the flaws and fixed everything. And the “fall season finale” was the best episode yet. Easily the best new show of the season.
10. Countdown with Keith Olbermann/The Rachel Maddow Show: Again, in an election year, you need some political shows. To borrow a metaphor from John McCain, when you need an axe and a scalpel, Olbermann and Maddow are the perfect combination. Olbermann is, not surprisingly, the axe. He can be hot-headed and often over-the-top, but his special/campaign comments over the last two weeks of the campaign did a great job of pointing out the hypocrisy of the McCain/Palin ticket. Maddow would then be the scalpel. She’s incredibly smart. She lets her guests talk, but then is always ready to throw the counter-punch when they finish a point. She has a love of politics that is infectious and really was the breakout star of this year’s election coverage. In a lot of ways she reminds of Tim Russert. Granted, unlike Russert, she wears her political leanings on her sleeve, but she just comes across as a nice, genuine person and you never feel like she’s trying to beat up on guests who are on the opposite side of an issue (unlike so many others in cable news). Also, unlike some other liberal commentators, when she’s disagreed with Obama, she’s really gone after him.
11*. Friday Night Lights: FNL would be competing for a top 5 spot on my list, but I just haven’t seen enough episodes from 2008 yet. I’m a little over halfway through season 2 on DVD and I haven’t seen any of season 3 since I don’t have DirecTV. That being said, I can’t just throw it in the Honorable Mention category. It’s just too good. If there’s any show that is guaranteed to make you swell up with emotion, it’s Friday Night Lights. It may be the only show on this list that’s made me teary-eyed at any point.
Honorable Mention: Chuck, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, 30 Rock, Burn Notice, House, Life, The Ultimate Fighter, Psych, Top Chef, The Soup, Smallville