Saturday, January 24, 2009

My Favorite TV Series of 2008

Though derailed by the Hollywood writer’s strike, there was plenty of good TV to be had in 2008. Here’s a look at my nine favorite series (keep in mind: not all were actually broadcast in 2008).

9. "Pardon the Interruption"
Tony and Mike are big TV stars now because of this show, so it's ironic that's exactly what's hampered the vehicle that got them there. It may not be as good as it used to be, but "PTI" remains daily viewing for me, a way to catch up on sports news of the day in 20 minutes and laugh at the same time.

8. “Undeclared”
Between the first-season cancellations of this excellent college-freshman comedy and his previous high school dramedy “Freaks and Geeks,” it’s no wonder producer extraordinaire Judd Apatow gave up on TV and started making movies.

7. “The Office” (Season 4/5)
Though this series’ 2008 began with an all-time classic episode (“The Dinner Party”), it was a steady decline over the rest of the calendar year. "The Office" can still be counted on each week for moments of utter hilarity (Andy vs. Dwight in a college interview death match!), I’m worried the writing staff may just plain be running out of ideas of absurd things to do in an office, so they’re left to focus on things like love triangles and out-of-the-building trips. Still a must-see for me each week, but showing signs of age.

6. “Bones” (Seasons 3/4)
Perhaps the hardest hit by the strike of any show on this list, “Bones” was forced to ram its Season 3 serial killer storyline home in a hurry, which was unfortunate. Still, Booth and Brennan have the best chemistry of any team on TV, and the writing staff continues to provide an offbeat procedural with a deeper level of character and emotion than its contemporaries. Season 4 to this point has been a bit too focused on the bones and not enough on the hearts of its two leads, but that just makes the eps that go the opposite way that much more meaningful.

5. “WWE Monday Night Raw”
Though I’ve been a professional wrestling fan since elementary school, my fervor for the sports entertainment showcase has come and gone over the years. In 2008, it was back with a vengeance, as “Monday Night Raw” offered one of the most exciting stretches of its long run. I don’t know if it was a ploy to buoy ratings or simply a reaction to the boneheaded decision to give mid-carder CM Punk the championship belt (probably a combo of both), but this fall “Raw” was suddenly offering matches on a weekly basis typically saved for big pay-per-view events.

The lion’s share of the credit goes to the man who used to be known as “Lionheart,” Chris Jericho. The formerly flamboyant superstar’s monotone heel turn has been one of WWE’s best-ever moves, as Jericho turned everything—and everyone—he touched this year into gold. His feud with Shawn Michaels was one of the best I’ve ever seen; when it ended, Jericho didn’t miss a beat, moving on to ratchet up the intensity with the likes of Batista, John Cena, and whoever else came across his path. “Raw” really was Jericho this year.

4. “How I Met Your Mother” (Seasons 1-4)
I devoured this show on DVD in 2008. Alternately hilarious and touching, Ted, Barney, Robin, Marshall, and Lily gave me some of the biggest laughs of the year. Offering up episodes on everything from Slap Bet to Swarley to Woo Girls, this is the latest in a (short) line of worthy “Seinfeld” descendants. It’s my favorite sitcom on TV today, and from week to week is as consistently funny as any show I’ve seen in a long time.

3. “Survivor: Micronesia/Gabon”
I’m not an every-season “Survivor” watcher; of its 17 iterations, I think I’ve watched six. But the two seasons aired in 2008 had me hooked from the beginning and all the way through—at several spots, the action was downright riveting. This is the only reality show I watch with any regularity, and a lot of the credit goes to longtime host Jeff Probst, one of the best personalities on TV, reality or otherwise.

2. “Lost” (Season 4)
When a show is as consistently brilliant as “Lost,” its greatness can become almost commonplace, expected, routine. But in preparation for this past week’s return, I re-watched the final three episodes of Season 4, and was reminded anew how there has never been another show like this—so ambitious, intricate, and epic—in the history of TV. Sure it can get buried beneath its own mythology at times, but this, the first of “Lost’s” final three shortened seasons, proved now that the producers have an endpoint in sight, they’re moving toward it at breakneck speed.

1. “Dexter” (Season 2)
Though it seemed impossible, the producers behind one of television’s best series managed somehow to surpass their debut season with an even more tense, dramatic, and entertaining sophomore run. It became less about whom Michael C. Hall’s serial-killer-with-a-code would slice and dice each week, and focused more strongly on an edge-of-your-seat storyline that left my heart pounding and my mind spinning. Superb.

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