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Top 10 TV Shows of 2009

2009 was an unbelievably great year in television. And although we could only pick ten (Hung, Dexter, and Modern Family are a few honorable mentions) we watched a lot of the said television. 2010 will certainly be good as well, but let's take this opportunity to honor the best of the best.

10. Party Down; Starz; Creators: John Enborn, Dan Etheridge, Paul Rudd, and Rob Thomas
Let's face it: we're all stuck in dead-end jobs that we hate, not doing the things we imagined ourselves doing when we were seven. (Most kids imagined they were the star baseball player, but I imagined I'd be the general manager of the baseball team, but that's just me.) Party Down, a first year sitcom, captures what we do with our lives when we're still dreaming of escaping those dead-end jobs. In this case, it's a witty group of pop culture-referencing out-of-work actors, and its funnier than any show on a network called Starz has any right being.

9. In Treatment; HBO; Creator: Hagai Levi
In Treatment suffered in its first season from College-Theater-Tryout-itis and, while ultimately saved by the superb work of Gabriel Byrne and Dianne Wiest, didn't pack the potent punch it could have. Come 2009's second season, and pretty much all of the issues facing the series in its first were wiped away. Of course it helps to have a completely perfect cast of patients for Byrne's Dr. Paul Weston to work with and, of course, learn about himself from. My favorite season two patient was April: young, occasionally hopeless, but ultimately a fighter. Oh, and this season actually managed to fit in the occasional laugh, saving it from the dreaded Over-Dramatic-itis.

8. Better Off Ted; ABC; Creator: Victor Fresco
Officially (at least in the mind of Chris and I) usurping 30 Rock as the preeminent single-cam network workplace comedy is the madcap, wacky, laugh-a-second Better Off Ted. What makes it better at this point in time? Maybe just fresher characters, more relatable targets for satire (the soulless corporation Veridian Dynamics is a funhouse mirror of all of our day-job workplaces), or the great work of the cast, especially Arrested Development's Portia de Rossi, who pretty much steals every scene she's ever in. Sadly this series is probably short lived, as its second season is currently being burned off by ABC before February sweeps.

7. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia; FX; Creator: Rob McElhenney
What differentiates this sitcom from the current fray of single-camera laugh riots is this cast of characters is thoroughly unlikeable. And yet, the way the cast and the characters interact is a formula for hard laughs unlike any other show on TV. When they miss, they miss badly, but even when that happens, I always laugh very hard to this show.

6. True Blood; HBO; Creator: Alan Ball
This series upped the ante about as much as a show about sexy vampires in the Bayou possibly could in its second season. Remember when the first season's biggest drama for Tara was that her mom was a drinker? This year her biggest drama was being possessed by a Greek goddess' spell that caused her to participate in the town's nonstop orgies. Seriously, though, by fully embracing the ridiculousness of the series, by no longer straddling the line between "metaphor for real life" and "fun genre show", True Blood took off. It took off like Vampire Eric took off flying. So many WTF moments per episode -- the most since 24's heyday. Here's to hoping for even crazier stuff in the third season.

5. Big Love; HBO; Creators: Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer
Watching last night's season four premiere brought all the things about this series I love way back to the forefront. Bill Hendrikson's tenuous relationship with his three wives, the intense situations on the compound, and the interplay between all the kids is always pretty dramatic. But what I love the most is the relationship between Bill's wives, Barb, Nicki and Margene. In many ways, the three wives are the most quintessential family on television today.

4. Sons of Anarchy; FX; Creator: Kurt Sutter
The slow burn of the first season continued into its second and upped the ante both in terms of action and in emotion. Kurt Sutter's show is the only one that makes me wince in pain one moment when seeing someone get brutally beaten, then shed a few tears for the characters the next. A season-long plotline came to a head in the season's tenth (and perhaps finest) episode "Balm", in which Jax and Clay learned the truth about what happened to Gemma. And, this show easily fills the manly show slot that was vacated by The Sopranos back in 2007.

3. Curb Your Enthusiasm; HBO; Creator: Larry David
What I love the most about Curb is not its uproariously hilarious situations that Larry David gets himself into (although they are, of course, very, very funny) but the intricate plotting that goes into each and every episode. While the last two seasons played a little looser, the seventh season was, for the most part, expertly plotted, so that every joke or meaningful piece of conversation was made worthwhile in the end, most exceptionally demonstrated in the second episode "Vehicular Fellatio". The fact that this season also contained the most ingenious TV reunion ever with its in-show Seinfeld reunion was just a bonus; an unbelievable bonus, nonetheless.

2. Lost; ABC; Creators: JJ Abrams, Jeffrey Lieber and Damon Lindelof
I've been an idiot for ignoring and/or lambasting Lost for years before Brigitte and I finally gave it a try this year. So, from March through November 2009, Brigitte and I sped through five (FIVE!) full seasons of Lost. And, frankly, the fifth season, which aired in 2009, was my favorite yet. Fully committing to the sci-fi elements of the show helped, but I think it was mostly the penultimate season action that led to an "explosive" (get it?!) finale that's still bending my brain in a lot of different ways. And the fact that so much of the series is a ripoff/homage to my favorite book series, Stephen King's The Dark Tower, makes it all the better.

1. Mad Men; AMC; Creator: Matthew Weiner
If the first season of Mad Men was All About Don Draper, and the second was Mad Men 2: Ladies Night, then the third brilliant season was about all of those things, and more. Standing on the precipice of change, the characters in Mad Men reacted in ways that surely will have consequences on the remaining seasons of the show. Sterling-Cooper pulled the plug, Betty finally left Don, and in between, President Kennedy got killed. And the slow, stylish build-up to all of those events was as meditative as In Treatment and as stylish as a movie. Can't wait to see how this one plays out.

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  1. Blogger chris | 2:31 PM |  

    With the exception of In Treatment, which I have yet to delve into, I love this list. 2009 quite possibly was the best year for television of my life thus far.

    Though those trailers for Boardwalk Empire and Treme from last night are giving last year a run for its money already, added to the fact that we're going to enjoy new seasons from all of these Top 10 shows (come on ABC! keep BoT!)...and of course whenever Larry David gets around to another Curb.

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