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Top TV Shows of 2008

Although the Great Writers' Strike of 2007-2008 loomed large over 2008's television output, this was still a magnificent year of television. We said goodbye to obvious great shows like The Wire while welcoming new faves like True Blood and new seasons of current faves like It's Always Sunny.... And there were miniseries, from the astounding-but-just-barely-not-making-this-list's-cut Generation Kill to the historically-accurate-to-a-fault John Adams. All in all, there were too many good things on TV this year to list here - if you read my Cable Television Rundown, you've doubtless read about many of these shows that didn't quite hit the top 10 - and I doubtless wasted time that could have been spent going outside or reading a book. But when the TV options are so rewarding, why turn away? These are The Blogulator's Top TV Shows of 2008.

10. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Episodes featuring gloryholes, boys' souls (sound it out), pooping the bed, taco beds (I WANT ONE btw), and a character named "Rickety Cricket" dressed in a powdered wig getting his head blown off by a musket made up the latest season of haute couture comedy known to superfans simply as "Sunny". Now I don't usually subscribe to purveyors of toilet humor, but really this show isn't so much about the jokes (about half the time it is) as much as it is about the "actors". I use the term loosely because they're not so much acting as they are screaming at each other incessantly and without pause. And they've all got their own perfect brand of scream: Dennis is the femmy vain screamer, Mac is the testosterone-fueled self-involved screamer, Charlie is the batshit wild card screamer, Dee is the well-intentioned but ultimately also narcissistic screamer, and Danny DeVito as Frank is the demented conceited screamer. When whatever hare-brained scheme they come up with in any given episode ultimately fails (and they always do of course), an orchestra of overlapping screaming commences, and it's like music to my ears: sweet blood-curdling music. Oh and any show that boasts guest stars Sinbad and Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20 as a duo of ass-beating mental hospital patients will earn my undying respect. --Chris

9. True Blood
Though no one will confuse Alan Ball's newest HBO drama True Blood with high art, the vampires-in-our-society concept works pretty well, "despite everything", as DoktorPeace might say. Sure, the episodes in the first season written by Ball were among the most obnoxiously heavy-handed, unfunny and overly melodramatic. But as the show went on, the show gained a new layer of darkness that Ball probably couldn't produce himself. Bad accents aside, the cast also worked pretty well together, with Ryan Kwanton's Jason Stackhouse evolving into one of the better characters on the show by season's end. And the guest spots by Lizzy Caplan, Stephen Root, and Michelle Forbes brought some, shall I say, "fresh blood" to the later episodes. Luckily the season ended on a fairly strong note, so when season two premieres on HBO in the summer, I'll actually be excited to watch, despite everything. --Qualler

What is about this show that keeps me coming back? Is it the absurd mysteries and paced plot twists? Is it Sawyer's gratuitous use of nick-names for his island friends? Or is it merely Kate's cleavage? The answer is all of the above. With only two seasons left, LOST is right on track telling one of TV's craziest stories. 2008 saw the to development of new cast members and more off-island revelations. My big question: how does Locke die? And is it for realz? Nothing can stop this beast from running its course. No star DUIs, no writer's strikes, and no mopey, whiny fans, either. Here's to LOST! --Sean

7. The Office
Okay, sure, the faux-documentary premise is now preposterous after four seasons. (Is it four seasons?). Do The Employees not watch the actual show? Is this documentary team just filming an obscene amount of material, never to release it? The point is: who cares? The Office is still hilarious. Let's hope things work out for Andy and Angela. And let's also hope Jim and Pam totally break up cause they make me gag a little. And who thinks the support cast is often the funniest? Give them a Dundie award! --Sean

6. Dexter
You know how police detectives are always trying to get into the mind of a serial killer? Who knew all they needed to do was watch a little Showtime? Pretty much every season of Dexter introduces an new friend character for the lonely serial killer. In 2008, the third season was no different, except that Dexter's new friend was *gasp* a city prosecutor (played by Jimmy Smits). I have no idea why none of the people who discover Dexter's true identity are even remotely freaked out by his "hobby," but it makes for great drama! In 2008, not only does Dexter continue to serve up his own version of justice, he is forced to deal with conflicting trust issues. Should he believe his imaginary dead father or his new best friend? Not to mention, Dexter's personal life gets a little more complicated with a wedding and an impending child and he has to figure out when to squeeze in a stabbing every once in awhile. I guess that's what they call "work-life balance." --Amy

5. The Soup
No show has helped me numb the pain of the most garbage-filled pop culture more than The Soup on E! Yes, Joel McHale is there to zing his way through the week of crap reality television, Tyra Banks appearances, soap operas, The Today Show, and even his own negligible network's other programming choices. 2008, though, was probably the show's best year. Having The Hills and multiple Tyra Banks channels certainly helps. Having Miley Cyrus around makes things even better. Mr. McHale, if you're reading this right now, a) please come to Minneapolis to perform, and b) please give me a job. I have a DVR and am willing to record 12 hours worth of Bromance on MTV for you. --Qualler

4. Gossip Girl
Some people would have you believe that Gossip Girl, far from being an amazing show, is teenage trash, the same crap they've been serving up on One Tree Hill for years except for with more money and more headbands and less Chad Michael Moron (praise Jesus). To that I say: Nay. Gossip Girl, like every good melodrama (and that's not an oximoron; melodrama has been a staple of high art for centuries), is an allegory. It paints in broad strokes the basic problem (loneliness) and triumph (being known and accepted by others) of human existence, and though its characters are exaggerated, they're allowed to be, because they are archetypes, and though its plots are outlandish, they're allowed to be, because they are myths and fables and tall tales rather than real life scenarios. Gossip Girl is a fantasy, and furthermore it's not really about teenagers, or really about specific humans at any age; it's about all humans at every age, and its universal quality makes it possible for fans to overlook gaping holes in consistency, logic, geography, even the time/space continuum. If nothing else, Gossip Girl's legacy will be the epic pair of Blair Waldorf and Chuck Bass; I don't know if it was planned or just happened, but Dan and Serena, ostensibly the Destined Couple of the series, have been completely eclipsed by these lovable, scarred lunatics, played most convincingly and heartbreakingly by Leighton Meester and (my boyfriend) Ed Westwick. Considering the recent discombobulation that plagues these two, it's hard to know how the series will play out in future seasons, but one thing's for sure: Gossip Girl is good TV watchin', and anyone who avoids it because they think it's just for teenage girls is seriously missing out. --OHD

3. Mad Men
Though the Don Drapers of the show get most of the press, season two of the critical-darling was so strongly reinforced by the ladies. The three central women of the show, Betty Draper (played by January Jones), Peggy Olson (played by Elizabeth Moss), and Joan Holloway (played by Christina Hendricks, all face dilemmas in progressing as people in a man's world. Betty's struggles becoming a force in her own oppressive marriage to her distant husband Don; Peggy struggles with being taken seriously as a woman while progressing in her career; Joan struggles with being taken as a career woman when the men at Sterling-Cooper see her as an object. The ramifications of the various dilemmas reach their peaks at season's end; some uplifting, others crushing. In that way, season two of Mad Men brought even more depth to the show than had previously existed. Has society really progressed since the 60s? Are the secrets that we keep from each other tearing us apart? It helps, too, that the cast is superb, the writing is breathtaking (and at times near the end of the season a little David Lynch-ian), the office politics are addictive television, etc. In whole, all the good things you've read about this show are true. --Qualler

2. 30 Rock
I always end my viewing of a new episode of 30 Rock with about fifteen different quotes running around my head. That is attributable to a number of factors -- the endlessly witty writing, the hilarious, well-rounded cast, the madcap pace of the dialogue (not unlike another past Blogulator fave Gilmore Girls!), etc. More importantly, though, 30 Rock provides a rare show to catch on a regular basis on network television. Now that cable and the interweb have taken so much of the "good" TV, leaving the networks to their own devices by airing mostly reality television, it's comforting to know that there's a show that doubtless all your friends watched last night, too. You might say it's watercooler television for the energy-drink generation; of course, Liz Lemon's on-again-off-again boyfriend Dennis Duffy might then drink some energy drinks and puke on your face. --Qualler

1. The Wire
The fifth and final season of the greatest drama in the history of television seemingly can't be blogged about or even written in professional publications about without comparing it to past seasons. Why everyone has seemingly forgotten that one of the reasons The Wire is the greatest show ever is that its seasons are so unique to one another, each covering a strikingly different (yet yes, all interrelated) aspects of the decay of urban America, so we should all know about apples and oranges, etc. The progression from season to season was astounding: begin with the drug war in the streets, show how it affects blue collar America, which causes an attempt at reform in government, and all three of these problems contribute to leaving our children uneducated, and finally it all gets regurgitated questionably back out to the public via the media. I've never felt so much sadness, anger, and stone cold disillusionment when a show ended like I did when I had to say goodbye to the eternally bruised and maniacal Detective McNulty, the kind and philosophizing street thug Omar, and even the characters we just began loving, like hardnosed newspaper editor Gus or the once despicable Bodie. But it was recovering addict Bubbles, who near the end of the series says profoundly, "Ain't no shame in holding onto grief...as long as you make room for other things too." So I will hold the cast of Bodymore, Murderland in my heart and slowly allow other television shows to enter...when I'm good and ready. --Chris

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  1. Blogger DoktorPeace | 9:24 AM |  

    I think some of us are being too kind to television, just because we want it to stay a part of our lives... much as I am to video games. But this is a pretty good list. I still believe Dexter and 30 Rock are overrated, and I'd like to have seen Galactica (although it only did one weird half season in 2008) and Generation Kill in the Top 10. But I voted, and I must accept the democratic position. Kill Socrates!

  2. Blogger Lady Amy | 10:23 AM |  

    Generation Kill was amazing, but I wasn't really sure how to count mini-series in all of the voting.

    If there was a category devoted to mini-series, it would win hands-down. However, pretty much all of the entries in that category would be HBO shows.

  3. Anonymous LQ | 12:32 PM |  

    Did you really put Gossip Girl ahead of Dexter? Or ahead of any of the shows on this list, for that matter? I don't fully understand the argument for why this is a good show...if it's a total exaggeration and something that can't possibly be true, then how can all humans at every age relate to it? If it were truly a huge exaggeration of a show, then I would think that nobody could relate to it at all. If exaggeration and ridiculousness were really the makings of high-quality entertainment, then Transporter 3 had better be on the top of your 2008 movies list.

  4. Blogger qualler | 12:41 PM |  

    LQ -- I personally wouldn't put Gossip Girl on the list (it just missed my personal Top 10) but it's still a high quality show, not unlike The OC. The writing is witty, the characters are memorable, and the show is stylish. Dexter's great, too, but I'd put that one high on entertainment but low on depth. Not to say it isn't also a great show, because it is, but shows like The Wire and Mad Men transcend being merely entertaining to being something that says something about people and society.

  5. Blogger qualler | 12:42 PM |  

    Lady Amy -- you could have voted for GK! I did!!

  6. Blogger Brigitte | 12:43 PM |  

    last time i checked, dexter was a pretty exaggerated/over the top/ridiculous show (not unlike gossip girl?). in fact, it's probably a lot more ridiculous that gossip girl...this is not to say that i don't enjoy both shows very much.

  7. Blogger Lady Amy | 1:15 PM |  

    I didn't think about that as an option... :(

    I demand a re-vote! And we should only count the ballots where people vote for Gen K.

  8. Anonymous OHD | 1:46 PM |  

    LQ, you are by far the most vociferous opponent of my "Gossip Girl is an allegory for human existence" theory--most people just say, "You're boring, go away, I watch the show for Chace Crawford's abs", etc.

    Reading it again, I think I explained my position pretty well, but let me go further by saying that when you write/make a novel/play/television show/movie that depends so heavily on gritty realism, oftentimes both the creators of the art and the audience become bogged down by facts and pay less attention to truth, because of course those are two different things. That's not to say that shows like that can't be good--I hear The Wire's a good show, and pretty realistic.

    But melodrama and allegory, myths and fantasy rely far more on emotional truth and far less on fact. Gossip Girl is a fantasy. That doesn't make it irrelevant.

    Fantasy like GG goes more for core things--like I said, the constant dark threat of loneliness, for one example--instead of trying to make sure that if it the show was real their school would actually be where they say it is (according to its address, it'd be someplace at the bottom of the East River). That's how art works. Personal preference pretty much makes or breaks this show for you.

  9. Blogger chris | 2:36 PM |  

    Gen Kill was totally my #11. It was heartbreaking to not include it, which is funny because I don't totally love all 10 of my top 10s in any other category. Ah, TV, you truth-teller, you.

    I think LQ has a valid, albeit controversial, point. Gossip Girl is both a good and bad show, simultaneously. And I don't think many people, myself included, know how to handle that. A show can be both entertaining, emotionally truthful, and despicably over the top at the same time. Too bad Dexter's only the latter.

    Buttons - pressed.

  10. Blogger DoktorPeace | 3:03 PM |  

    Yeah, as someone who watched the first 2 seasons of Dexter, I have to say I agree with Chris. The voiceover is constantly hitting me over the head with emotions that don't really make sense and I don't really care about. I stayed for the concept (and the free ondemand), but I never have any desire to go back.

    Then again, I've never seen Gossip Girl, so I can't speak for its veracity. It does have honeys, at least.

  11. Blogger Brigitte | 3:09 PM |  

    the definition of genius is the ability to hold two contrasting truths in one's head at the same time and know that they are both contradictory and simultaneously true
    ~my AP english teacher

    I think that sentiment applies to what chris said regarding gossip girl


    sorry, chris.

    and dexter is totally entertaining. it falls into the same category for me. though, this last season didn't quite meet my expectations.

  12. Blogger qualler | 3:10 PM |  

    It's personal preference, I guess. The voiceover can push a lot of people's buttons but I love everything about how it's done. I didn't even originally like it at all but I grew to love it as it beat me over the head with it. It hits a lot of the same TV pleasure points that the earlier seasons of 24 and Nip/Tuck did -- pure action/entertainment/sensationalism with characters who are interesting enough to follow on a regular basis. Dexter might or might not eventually fall off in quality like those shows did, but as of now it's still well-done enough to give me chills when something outrageous happens.

  13. Blogger qualler | 3:18 PM |  

    RE: The fifth season of The Wire complaints - I think the consensus of complaints stems from not that the season is different than other seasons but that the general premise of the season (McNulty tampers with evidence, fake serial killer, etc) was out of character with their actions. Of course, this is also a testament to Simon/Burns for giving us so many characters with so much consistency throughout four seasons, that something that would be brushed off on any other series would get noticed here. I wish the season could have been more than 10 episodes -- my only real complaint was that the action seemed more rushed. But those are all minor things -- I could still name about 10 scenes off the top of my head from S5 that devastated me.

    Whoever says HBO had an off year in 2008 is full of it.

  14. Blogger Brigitte | 3:39 PM |  

    HBO had an off year in 2008.

  15. Blogger qualler | 3:47 PM |  

    Brigitte, you've got to pay the troll toll to troll like that. Chris, so do you.

  16. Anonymous OHD | 10:08 PM |  

    This is sort of apropos of nothing, but did anybody else know that Michael C. Hall and Jennifer Carpenter, the woman who plays Debra on Dexter, were dating? And now they're MARRIED? Speaking of melodrama, it's getting a bit V.C. Andrew up in that piece!

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