The Best TV of 2009

by PopMatters Staff

7 January 2010


25 - 21


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The Amazing Race

Cast: Phil Keoghan


Review [2.Nov.2007]
Review [21.Sep.2006]
Review [2.May.2005]


The Amazing Race

After 15 seasons, CBS’ world-hopping reality series continues to deliver great entertainment and high tension. This year’s two entries minimized the airport drama, which allowed more time to focus on the original challenges. The editing also included split screens and other changes to raise the energy level, with mixed results. The winning teams were friendly but bland, but each group of episodes offered other memorable players that shined in defeat. The 14th season included Mike White (yes, the writer/actor) and his father Mel, who rose well above stunt casting ideas to shine on their own. We also saw the first deaf contestant and his mom, who fell one task short of winning the thing. The latest season provided a score of crazy moments, including one team losing due to a deathly fear of a water slide. The highlight was Globetrotters Big Easy and Flight Time, who were charming even as we suffered through numerous plays of “Sweet Georgia Brown”. These might not rank with The Amazing Race‘s best seasons, but they still provided consistent excitement throughout the year. Dan Heaton



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Cast: Christopher Egan, Ian McShane, Allison Miller, Susanna Thompson, Macaulay Culkin, Sebastian Stan




The best shows don’t just try to sell you on an unfolding plot between its leads—that’s for soap operas. Great television doesn’t just tell a story, it creates a world. This year, nobody’s universe was more intriguing than the too-quickly-canceled Kings. The series took place in an alternate-reality monarchy that was simultaneously slickly corporate and regally ornate. The mythology was laid on thick, with Biblical symbology mixing with invented history. The characters even spoke in an overly formal way, further underscoring that the characters lived in a world totally distinct and alien from ours—which, in the end, that may have been its undoing. Still, for those who watched, there was no greater pleasure this year than watching Ian McShane as King Silas Benjamin, wielding all of this heaviness as if it wasn’t just second nature, but his own personal history. Marisa LaScala



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It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

Cast: Charlie Day, Glenn Howerton, Rob McElhenney, Kaitlin Olson, Danny DeVito



It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia likely would not have survived its first season on a major network. Though a minor cult success at first, the show drew in its fanbase gradually, to the point where now green men can now be seen roaming all over the world (and don’t forget your dick towel on the way to the shower). In the process, the writing has become sharper and funnier, a social satire that’s like a 21st century update of The Young Ones. The wretchedness of the central gang’s moral character corresponds to a vulgarity of lifestyle, including a rare televised depiction of filth and squalor (which is self-imposed by Frank and Charlie). In season five, the gang exploited the mortgage crisis, invented their own barter system to solve the recession, manipulated veterans, seduced their relatives, stalked a lawyer, trapped cats in a wall, and poisoned people, thus securing their status as the worst people alive. Yet, Sunny is also a fully developed world whose plotlines and back stories give insight into the cultural and psychological motivation behind the characters’ terrible behavior. There’s a tragedy somewhere in this world, but you may be too busy splitting your sides to notice. Timothy Gabriele



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Curb Your Enthusiasm

Cast: Larry David, Cheryl Hines, Richard Lewis, Jeff Garlin, Susie Essman


Review [27.Sep.2007]
Review [1.Jan.1995]


Curb Your Enthusiasm

Curb Your Enthusiasm took things to ridiculous new extremes this season with the much-hyped reunion of the cast of Seinfeld, bringing Jerry, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jason Alexander, and Michael Richards onto the show as slightly-altered versions of themselves. The meta-plotline found Larry agreeing to write the reunion show in an attempt to reunite with Cheryl, his soon-to-be ex-wife. As great as the Seinfeld-centric episodes were, they were surrounded with equally memorable ones involving Curb’s regular cast of foils, including Richard Lewis, Ted Danson, and Leon, the hysterical, scene-stealing character leftover from last season’s arc with the Blacks. But it was the Seinfeld reunion in the season’s last two episodes that everyone was waiting for, as both familiar characters and plotlines popped up for a final curtain call. As satisfying as it was to see Newman rehearsing his reunion scene (and uttering “Hello, Jerry” one final time), it was just as satisfying to see Seinfeld’s “The Pen” plotline recur as, during the table read of the reunion script, Jason Alexander borrows Larry’s pen and proceeds to chew it for hours. When Larry refuses to touch the pen and demands a replacement, it just feels right… which is something that can be said about this entire season. Matt Paproth



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Cast:   Anna Torv, John Noble, Joshua Jackson, Lance Reddick, Kirk Acevedo, Jasika Nicole, Blair Brown, Leonard Nimoy




Dropped unfairly by Fox into the Thursday night melee, Fringe may have lost ratings, but has never been stronger creatively. The first season concluded with a shocking cliffhanger involving an alternate dimension and a chilling Leonard Nimoy. Those final episodes revealed numerous possibilities and fully transcended the “beast of the week” formula. This fall’s nine episodes have delivered major surprises (poor Charlie) and never grown too complicated for the average viewer. John Noble’s Walter Bishop remains a lovable eccentric as we learn intriguing hints at his past, and his growing bond with his son Peter (Joshua Jackson) drives the story. This personal focus is the key to Fringe‘s success, which doesn’t need constant plot twists to keep us entertained. From Walter’s charming assistant Astrid (Jasika Nicole) to the hard-nosed leader Broyles (Lance Reddick), I’d follow these characters anywhere. I haven’t even mentioned lead detective Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv), who plays a key role without ever dominating the story. This clever blend of mystery and heart leads to the most underrated show on television. Dan Heaton


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