John’s top 10 TV shows of 2009

The CW

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.

 

Comments

Seth Stringer's GravatarGlee almost got beat out by Gossip Girl and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and no Sunny? Weak sauce John, here’s how it’s done.

1. House
2. True Blood
3. Glee
4. It’s Always Sunny in Philadeplphia
5. The Office
6. Bones
7. Lie to Me
8. Curb Your Enthusiasm
9. Flight of the Conchords
10. Modern Family

# Posted By Seth Stringer | 12/29/09 4:12 PM

John Hansen's GravatarSeth—

Well, we agreed on “Glee,” at least.

Here are my explanations:

“House.” It’s a somewhat un-sexy pick for No. 1, don’t you think? I tried watching “House” when it started and wrote it off as just another medical drama, only with an ass as a main character instead of a doctor. Not my cup of tea at all.

“True Blood.” You know I liked Season 1. I just haven’t seen Season 2 yet. With it’s placement on many year-end lists (including No. 1 on EW’s list), I expect to like Season 2. I’ll be buying the DVD when it comes out. It’ll probably retroactively make my top 10.

“Sunny.” It’s often great, but not often enough. If we were making strictly a best episodes list, “Sunny” would be all over it. But it had a lot of misfires this year, too. This is one of those shows that’s always almost in the top 10, but I can never quite squeeze it in.

“The Office.” Ehhhh. It was a former No. 1 show for me (during the Jim-Pam courtship days), and I still tune in, but it has lost its edge. For me, it took a wrong turn when it dropped the very cute Michael-Holly relationship. Now, I don’t really like any of the characters. It was in the running, but it was easy for me to bump it from the top 10.

“Bones.” I watched an episode a few years ago and found it to be your basic procedural, only it starred “Angel” and Zooey Deschanel’s not-quite-as-hot sister. Not offensively bad by any means, but it didn’t hook me. Eventually I will have to give it a try again, due to your constant hype.

“Lie to Me.” Never saw it. Didn’t interest me. I’m sure it’s good for what it is.

“Curb Your Enthusiasm.” It will definitely make my list retroactively. I have only seen the first season, and I loved it. Everyone says it’s still really good.

“Flight of the Conchords.” Never seen it. Wouldn’t mind giving it a try.

“Modern Family.” I watched the pilot episode and thought it was very good and knew that it would be praised as one of the best new shows. But I knew it was a show I could only admire from afar (none of the themes really relate to me) and not fall in love with, so I canceled it from my schedule.

John

# Posted By John Hansen | 12/30/09 1:01 AM

Seth Stringer's GravatarBones procedural?, no way. It’s a great show for Crossing Jordan fans, which was brilliant. If you like detective and farensic work surrounded by sex, violence and comedy, this is your show.

As for House, this season was unbelievable and it’s very sexy…if you’d ever watch it. I mean, look at the leading ladies, the plot twists, the hard-to-solve cases, it’s sexy like most fox shows. And House is not just an ass like family guy makes you want to believe. He’s a brilliant ass who’s never predictable and always delivers a laugh. He says the things most people and patients don’t want to hear. It’s refreshing to see a lead character with some balls, and not always loveable.

As for Sunny, I think you hold it to a different standard than most of the shows in your top 10 least. If you put a gun to your head and you had to choose between FNL or 10 things I hate About You, I think you may choose Sunny. There’s nothing like it on tv, and even its worst show still delivers laughs. I don’t take it too seriously, so it’s always funny (as the show puts it) to me, and never lets me down. It’s a good fill in for the absence of Arrested Development.

But pertaining to your picks, I haven’t seen most of them. But if in watching The Soup, Gossip Girl looks like one of the worst shows on television. Maybe so bad it’s good? It does make me laugh, unintentionally. I’ll have to try Fringe, Dollhouse and Privileged.

# Posted By Seth Stringer | 12/30/09 2:26 AM

John Hansen's GravatarHonestly, I do like all of the shows on my list better than “Sunny.” “Sunny” is a cheap laugh; most of the other shows on my list have a more meaningful impact where I care about what’s happening to the characters. Now granted, “Sunny” sometimes takes “cheap laughs” to a brilliant level of artistry, and if every episode was as good as the one where Charlie goes on a date covered with sweat and hornet stings and tries to say “philanthropist” and order a milksteak, obviously it would be No. 1. I like “Sunny” at its best better than “10 Things” at its best, but “10 Things” is more consistently good. As a member of the selection committee, I have to look at the entire body of work. Sure, “Sunny” had that nice neutral court win over Duke, but they also lost to Bethune-Cookman at home. At least they get to play in the NIT.

“So bad it’s good” almost describes “Gossip Girl.” Except that it’s not actually bad. It’s a soap opera where the writers know they are writing a soap opera and they never apologize for it; they totally embrace the format. As such, we get many storylines that are so ridiculously contrived that they do indeed make me laugh. Or characters behaving in such a predictable (“that’s Dan being Dan” or “that’s Georgina being Georgina”) way that it makes me laugh. And then you have Kristen Bell come in with her voiceover about the meaning of it all, and it makes me laugh more. It’s technically a drama, yet it’s not meant to be taken seriously (all of the scenes — happy, sad, silly, dramatic — make me laugh just a little bit). It’s like unintentional-style humor that is very purposely designed, and everyone on the cast and crew is in on it. And it is a beautiful-looking show in terms of the cast and the locations. Basically, I feel happy when I watch “Gossip Girl.”

I would guess that 75 percent of “Gilmore Girls” fans will like “Privileged,” 75 percent of “X-Files” fans will like “Fringe” and 75 percent of “Buffy/Angel/Firefly” fans will like “Dollhouse,” so you might like those shows, but there’s a chance you won’t.

The two shows on my list where I’d be very surprised if a new viewer disliked them are “Friday Night Lights” and “Glee.” They are in that easy-to-like mold.

# Posted By John Hansen | 12/30/09 3:57 AM

Another Matt's GravatarBetter late than never, right. Anyway, I discovered it is much easier narrowing down a list for 2009 before I make go at the decade, so here is my list for top ten shows of ’09:

10. Venture Brothers
The only show remaining on the Adult Swim block that is worth a consistent watch (except for maybe Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job, which I just didn’t watch enough to make my list). Great villains and a strong stable of main characters keeps this show fantastic years after I would have expected it to become dull.

9. Parks and Recreation
Another big surprise for me was the vast improvement of this show from its first season. I guess that shouldn’t be such a surprise because this show is developed by the guys who originally brought us the U.S. Office, another show that sputtered at the start but became amazingly good in its second season.

8. Dexter
This show was incredible in its first two seasons, then started to show signs that the writers were running out of ideas for a show about a lovable serial killer. This year the plot was kind of slow to develop, but gained momentum up to the shocking final moments that will have huge implications as the series moves on. Bonus: John Lithgow was downright chilling as a serial killer counterpart to Dex this year.

7. 30 Rock
Not too much to say about this show that hasn’t already been said. In my opinion, it has surpassed The Simpsons, Family Guy and South Park for the over-the-top cartoony comedy. While it may have relied a bit heavily on guest stars and gags, sacrificing a bit of the character interaction along the way, it is still better than the vast majority of what’s on TV.

6. Curb Your Enthusiasm
You guys covered it. This is a fantastic show that continues to impress six years after its first season. The highlight of this season was Larry David playing “Larry David” playing George Castanza, which was essentially Jason Alexander playing his version of Larry David. My head exploded just typing that.

5. Always Sunny in Philadelphia
You guys know what’s up here.

4. Chuck
You guys haven’t seen it and it may not be objectively great compared to some of the others on my list, but this show is a personal favorite of mine. It doesn’t have super-detailed or meaningful plots, but it offers the most consistent fun on TV for me. I was happy to see it renewed for this year, and some changes revealed at the end of last season should shake the formula up a bit going forward.

3. Lost
I had quit watching Lost during the fourth season. I was never one to schedule my activities to make sure I could watch a particular show every week, and Lost pretty much demands the viewer see everything preceding an episode to appreciate all that is happening. When the 5th season showed up on Netflix Instant Watch, I watched all 20+ episodes in a weekend and have never experienced so much jaw-dropping sci-fi craziness in my life. The big picture mysteries are starting to come together in an excellent way, in my opinion, and the writers keep the surprises coming even though the answers are becoming a bit more clear five years into the show. This is another show that ended on an outrageous note, setting up an extremely interesting season opening as the show enters the home stretch. I’m not sure if you guys have given this show a shot, but watching them on DVD is incredibly satisfying because the show always ends with something that makes you fiend for the next episode. I would recommend starting at the first season DVD to anyone. And hurry, because when the show ends this year, I can promise it will be a huge (and probably mind-blowing) event.

3. Burn Notice
This is another show that is like candy (or maybe in this case yogurt) for me. Pure entertainment without much substance. Bruce Campbell, who is one of my heroes from his previous work, is excellent in this show as the funny goofball to Jeffrey Donovan’s cool McGyver-esque unstoppable spy. This show doesn’t aim to change the world just to have fun for an hour, and that is what it does.

1. Mad Men
Again, I don’t know if you guys watch this show, so I will keep this general so you can catch up on DVD (which is also the preferable manner to take this show in) some day. Deep characters, a rich environment and a somewhat soapy plotline give this show excellent re-watch value and reward studious observers. It is difficult, if not impossible, to jump into this show in the middle (sometimes it will seem like nothing happens for an entire episode but there is so much going on below the surface), so go rent the DVDs if you haven’t seen it yet.

Now that is a list.

# Posted By Another Matt | 1/6/10 1:34 PM

John Hansen's GravatarAnother Matt–

Nice list; well argued. I agree with “Always Sunny” and “Curb.” I disagree with “Lost”; the many stretches of filler plots (Who are the Oceanic Six? Who cares?) have caused me to lose my enthusiasm for the show (but I will watch the final season, of course). It might also be a case of backlash; if it was a little show that no one knew about, I might be hyping it up as being a hidden gem if only because of the concept.

I tried watching “Mad Men,” “Chuck,” “30 Rock” and “Dexter,” but dismissed all of them as not something I needed to watch. EW also made a reference to “30 Rock” having “Simpsons”-style comedy, so now I am intrigued. As you suggested, I found that nothing much happened on “Mad Men” (maybe I don’t have the patience for it). I found “Chuck” a little too breezy, and never really connected with the characters. And my brain is not wired to find sympathy with a serial killer, so I’m not the audience for “Dexter.”

I have not seen “Burn Notice” or “Venture Bros.”

For a New Year’s resolution, I should watch a Hulu block of “30 Rock,” “Parks and Recreation” and “Bones,” since I dismissed all of them early on but now have heard great things from multiple sources.

John

# Posted By John Hansen | 1/6/10 3:55 PM
chance o's GravatarMAD MEN
# Posted By chance o | 1/1/11 12:04 PM