05 March 2010

Better Late than Never: Best Television of 2009

I was considering not even doing a list this year, basically because these are about the only shows I watch anymore. There may be a "Golden Age of Television" upon us, but I don't have the time or patience to sit through most serialized shows. So here's the best of what I actually sat through.

1. Modern Family (ABC)
A brilliant mockumentary series about the interconnecting lives of three related families. Each character is extremely well-written, something we haven't seen since the days of Arrested Development. While it's always howlingly funny, what keeps me coming back is the show's tremendous heart.

2. Friday Night Lights (NBC)
No show should be able to keep up this much steam headed into its fourth season. But the football drama always remains compelling, no matter how many times a game comes down to the last play of the fourth quarter. But it's really what happens off the field that works so well: how characters change into something the viewer didn't expect.

3. The It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia Christmas Special (FX)
A vicious parody of A Christmas Carol and unsettling trip back to childhood for Charlie and Mac, nothing made me laugh harder than this extended episode (only available on DVD). With everything from stealing presents, gentlemen callers dressed as Santa and a gory Rankin-Bass tribute, this was the most grisly piece of Christmas entertainment since Bad Santa.

4. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart/The Colbert Report (Comedy Central)
Scarily, this is still the place to get the most accurate news on cable. Both of these guys are pros at making Democrats and Republicans look foolish, which they are. It's also still a painful reminder that no in Washington is looking to help you.

5. Community (NBC)
The new Friends, and that's not a slight. While much of the humor comes from the characters' tendencies and behavior--not necessarily just jokes--most viewers genuinely care about these characters, each of them with just the right amount of layering. A stroke of genius.

6. The Simpsons (Fox)
You may be asking yourself how a show with more than 450 episodes under its belt can remain funny and relevant, but between episodes about underperforming schools and a No Country for Old Men parody and a Da Vinci Code spoof infinitely better than the movie, it still works.

7. The Office (NBC)
Though I've said many negative things about this show (and about how it wants to be the next Friends--without actually doing a lot of the work. Boom! Roasted!), it's making my list because of two masterful episodes: the rib-crushing "Stress Relief" and the tear-jerking "Niagara". Both episodes find the show at its peak with side-splitting humor and the right amount of heart.

8. American Idol (Fox)
Another show that still manages to be engaging after numerous seasons. The showdown between the flashy Adam Lambert and the down-home Kris Allen led to the most exciting finale in years (or least since the previous year) and further proof that some reality shows are worth your time.

9. Glee (Fox)
Though it doesn't always stay on point and strays into becoming an hourlong commercial for the soundtrack (available on iTunes!!!), this is the best time to catch the series. Because if it goes on for too long, Ryan Murphy (Nip/Tuck) won't know what to do and start making it up as he goes along.

10. The Singing Bee (CMT)
In the era of Mad Men and Big Love, why on earth would I pick a goofy karaoke show on a station dedicated to country music? Because, well, it's simply appointment television. It's fun, easy-to-follow and watching Melissa Peterman make a fool of herself week after week is more entertaining than just about anything else on the air.

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