Although two shows on this list are much missed and a third (“Dollhouse”) is on its way out, 2009 was generally a year when TV networks got smarter about marketing.
“Friday Night Lights” would’ve been canceled under the old system, but cost-sharing between DirecTV and NBC keeps it going into a fourth season. And “Glee,” midway through its first season, has already pumped out two moneymaking soundtracks.
Making dough and making people happy — it’s great when those two things can work in unison.
Here are the 10 best TV shows I saw in 2009. All times are Central.
1. “Privileged,” Season 1 (canceled by The CW) — The story of a somewhat awkward journalism graduate (the adorable Joanna Garcia) who tutors two rich girls, “Privileged” had a quippy charm similar to that of “Gilmore Girls.” Although Season 1 (and Only) isn’t available on DVD or Hulu, it can be purchased digitally at Amazon.
2. “Fringe,” Season 1-2 (8 p.m. Thursdays on Fox, returns Jan. 14) — “Fringe” started by channeling “The X-Files,” but John Noble gives this show its own identity with his portrayal of the psychologically unstable (due to an illegal experiment, we now know) Walter Bishop. He’s the most entertaining eccentric on TV (chewing licorice while examining a corpse, for example).
3. “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” Season 1-2 (8 p.m. Fridays on Cartoon Network, returns Friday) — I now watch “Revenge of the Sith” and wonder why Ahsoka Tano isn’t in it. The team behind this show gives us the banter and the battles — all the best parts of “Star Wars,” that is — with (refreshingly) no time for Senate hearings and exposition.
4. “Friday Night Lights,” Season 3-4 (8 p.m. Wednesdays on DirecTV, returns Jan. 6 [on NBC later in year]) — The Dillon Panthers make another run at state in Season 3, but the real triumphs are the character arcs for Street, Smash, Saracen and Riggins. Ultimately, though, the show is about Coach Taylor, who takes the East Dillon reins in Season 4.
5. “10 Things I Hate About You,” Season 1 (between seasons on ABC Family) — Just when the breezy take on high school seemed gone from TV with the cancellation of “Privileged,” “10 Things” sweeps in with a funny first season. The writers are using the high school genre as a foundation, but their humor isn’t confined to that (note Kat and Bianca’s exchange about Kim Jong Il).
6. “Dollhouse,” Season 1-2 (8 p.m. Fridays on Fox, returns Jan. 8) — In Season 2, “Dollhouse” finds its identity as a Philip K. Dick-esque exploration of identity. Eliza Dushku’s Echo becomes a sympathetic character once she is able to fight off the treatments. And as often develops on Joss Whedon’s shows, the humor shines through, especially in scenes with Topher (as he interacts with a fellow brain played by Summer Glau; and as embodied by Victor, who is imprinted with Topher’s personality).
7. “The Cleveland Show,” Season 1 (7:30 p.m. Sundays on Fox, returns Sunday) — There’s something about the soft-spoken, put-upon Cleveland that makes this spin-off just a bit funnier than its tried-and-true forbearer, “Family Guy.” Also, his new family (with fresh, ready-to-exploit stereotypes based on age, race and social status) is a fully formed supporting cast from episode one (note Donna’s deadbeat ex, who tries to win her back with a parakeet from Woolworth’s).
8. “Glee,” Season 1 (8 p.m. Wednesdays on Fox, returns April 13) — The most aptly titled show on TV, “Glee” makes you feel good. The likable cast has a lot to do with it — the caring Will is the definition of a good teacher, and go-getter Rachel is totally worth rooting for. But the real joy is the anticipation of whatever pop interpretation is coming up next; even with a hit-or-miss success rate, “Glee” communicates why we love music.
9. “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles,” Season 2 (canceled by Fox) — Before its cancellation, the brooding “Sarah Connor Chronicles” was mining the old “Terminator” themes and striking gold. Most notable is Summer Glau taking Ah-nuld’s turn a step further by giving a cyborg a believable, sympathetic personality.
10. “Gossip Girl,” Season 2-3 (8 p.m. Mondays on The CW, returns March 8) — The shark has yet to be jumped, as the writers keep finding fresh storylines. This year’s highlights include Chuck’s attempt to become respectable, the slowly bubbling more-than-friendship between Vanessa and Dan, and memorable stints from show-shaker Michelle Trachtenberg’s Georgina and Hilary Duff’s movie-star-turned-college-student Olivia.
Agree? Disagree? Share your top 10 TV shows of 2009 below.