Back to Basics - The 30 Best TV Shows of 2008

by PopMatters Staff

11 January 2009


20 - 11

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Attack of the Show

Cast: Kevin Pereira, Olivia Munn
Regular airtime: Weeknights, 7pm

(G4 Television)
US: 28 Mar 2005


Attack of the Show G4 Television

In the several-hundred-channel, all-niche digital-cable universe, it’s comforting to see shows playing it loose and goofy in the margins: witness Attack of the Show, G4’s mostly-daily cornucopia of geek news, chat, and hastily formulated sketches. The gadget reviews can be suspect and the web clips recycled; what makes Attack perfect channel-surfing fodder is the easy chemistry of co-hosts Kevin Pereira and Olivia Munn. He’s an affable goofball, she’s game for anything, and they both know their way around an awkward pause. Together, they’re your newest cult crushes, and an adorable reminder that not all TV is for DVR and endlessly watching; there are still shows you can just plain catch and enjoy. Jesse Hassenger

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Series Premiere
Cast: Damian Lewis, Sarah Shahi, Adam Arkin, Robin Weigert, Brooke Langton
Regular airtime: Wednesdays, 10pm ET

US: 26 Sep 2007

Review [29.Sep.2008]
Review [26.Sep.2007]


Life NBC

In the overcrowded television of landscape of copycat police procedurals, overflowing with CSIs and Law and Orders and their various offspring, it doesn’t seem there’d be much wiggle room anymore for anything that isn’t by the book. However, much like it’s deliberately quirky main character, Detective Charlie Crews, played with off-center eccentricity by Damian Lewis, NBC’s Life isn’t interested in doing things strictly according to plan. And by turning the focus away from procedure and grotesquerie, and back on to character, Life is able to separate itself ably from the pack, with themes and narratives that the other shows of its ilk are too tired or unimaginative to explore. Jake Meaney

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Generation Kill

Series Premiere
Cast: Jon Huertas, Alexander Skarsgård, James Ransone, Stark Sands, Billy Lush, Lee Tergesen, Rudy Reyes, Chance Kelly
Regular airtime: Sundays, 9pm ET

US: 13 Jul 2008

Review [11.Jul.2008]


Generation Kill HBO

A recreation of the two months Rolling Stone journalist Evan Wright spent with the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion of the Marine Corps during the birth pangs of the Iraq quagmire, this HBO miniseries by producers David Simon and Ed Burns (The Wire) is a tragic and consistently fair-handed bildungsroman about a group of lost boys trapped between early adulthood and late adolescence, struggling to find their roles in a war which seems eternally out-of-reach and impenetrable to them. The complete alienation of the troops from the institutional decision-making structure leaves them entangled in a reigning bureaucracy, one that dominates at the expanse of the men, the mission, and particularly the Iraqi citizenry. As it is in all modern American wars, the military emerges as the great unifier of races, creeds, and classes, but the strain on the fractured relationships in Generation Kill (between the soldiers and their superiors, between the media and their subjects, and between the Iraqi people and their “liberators”) emerges as a wound far too fragile to mend with the brutality of war. Timothy Gabriele

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Cast: Adrian Grenier, Kevin Dillon, Kevin Connolly, Jerry Ferrara, Jeremy Piven, Debbi Mazar
Regular airtime: Sundays, 10pm


Review [27.Jun.2006]
Review [14.Jul.2005]
Review [1.Jan.1995]


Entourage HBO

It’s hard to believe that Entourage could recover from the peak it hit last season, but there is something we love about watching the struggle of a man and the recovery of his life. Although, let’s be honest, Vince didn’t struggle THAT much—did you see the first episode? Not only was Vince’s character developed, they took time out this season to develop all aspects of the show, including Turtle, the show’s obvious neglect and outcast until now. In case you didn’t see the season yet, I won’t spoil the end for you, but let’s just say I’ll be sipping Manhattans next season. John Bohannon

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The Shield

Cast: Michael Chiklis, Glenn Close, CCH Pounder, Benito Martinez, Jay Karnes, Michael Jace, Catherine Dent, Walton Goggins, Kenneth Johnson, David Rees Snell
Regular airtime: Tuesdays, 10pm ET


Review [24.Jan.2006]
Review [21.Mar.2005]
Review [9.Mar.2004]
Review [7.May.2002]
Review [7.Jan.2002]


The Shield FX

Now this is how you end a series. During its seventh and final season, The Shield hurls Vic Mackey and his fellow Strike Team members Shane and Ronnie into unending hell. No one avoids their fate, particularly Mackey, who’s left alone to face his inner demons. This remarkable series has much greater depth than its early years and raises the emotions to nearly unbearable levels. The finale reveals the devastating effects of past crimes that can rip apart even the closest bonds. Shane’s final scenes are especially haunting without ever being exploitative, delivering a remarkable and completely understandable end. Dan Heaton

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True Blood

Series Premiere
Cast: Anna Paquin, Ryan Kwanten, Rutina Wesley, Michael Raymond-James
Regular airtime: Sundays, 9pm ET

US: 7 Sep 2008

Review [14.Jun.2009]
Review [7.Sep.2008]


True Blood HBO

With “God Hates Fangs” signs and debate over the rights of vampires to marry, it’s easy to identify True Blood as an allegory for the battle for gay and lesbian rights. Still, HBO’s hot new series is much more than that. While Twilight thrilled the tween crowd with its adolescent-angst, puppy love storyline, True Blood delivered the grown-up goods: a potent blend of sensuality, intrigue, romance, and the occult. Break-out performances by Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer, and Ryan Kwanten not only propelled the plot, but kept viewers hot and salivating for more. Michael Abernethy

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Top Chef

Cast: Tom Colicchio, Katie Lee Joel, Gail Simmons
Regular airtime: Wednesdays, 9pm ET


Review [15.Mar.2006]


Top Chef Bravo

Food and drama. Competition and collaboration. Tears and triumph. Top Chef has yet to loose its appeal. This reality TV series understands the successful format: bring together a diverse group of chefs, give them seemingly impossible tasks, deprive them of real-life distractions, offer a reward worth playing for. The visual and vicarious appeal of the food and the ensuing drama of personalities and pressures draws us in. On season four, Top Chef: Chicago, Stephanie dominates many of the challenges and ultimately wins the title of ‘Top Chef’, the first woman to do so, beating out Richard, the creative genius, and Lisa, the super villain. Sarah Hentges

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Series Premiere
Cast: Zachary Levi, Adam Baldwin, Yvonne Strahovski, Joshua Gomez, Sarah Lancaster
Regular airtime: Mondays, 8pm ET

US: 24 Sep 2007

Review [24.Sep.2007]


Chuck NBC

Flying under the critical radar, Chuck continues to provide great entertainment as it grows during its second year. Zachary Levi shines in the title role of the CIA asset/computer support guy at the local Buy More superstore. His relationship with his fake girlfriend and protector Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski) takes some emotionally rough turns, avoiding the easy route. The cast is excellent across the board, particularly Adam Baldwin, who makes straight man Agent Casey one of TV’s best comic foils. And you can’t forget Joshua Gomez as Chuck’s best pal Morgan, who’s the best kind of lovable dork. The plots are mostly goofy spy missions, but the writers’ love for oddball pop culture and the cast’s enthusiastic roles make Chuck a must see. Dan Heaton

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Season One First Three
Cast: Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Carpenter, Erik King, David Zayas, Julie Benz, Lauren Velez, James Remar, C.S. Lee
Regular airtime: Sundays, 10pm ET

US: 1 Oct 2006

Review [16.Feb.2008]
Review [4.Oct.2007]
Review [16.Oct.2006]


Dexter Showtime

Perhaps the most frightening aspect of Dexter Morgan’s life is how his moral compass is constantly called into question, yet the world around him continues to restore his faith in Harry’s code (a religious ethic of sorts). Nevertheless, Season Three of the best crime drama on television finds Dexter in the midst of a transformation from reclusive sociopath to average Joe (with a secret), complete with drinking buddies, loving family, and a baby on the way. The appearance of Assistant D.A. Miguel Prado (Jimmy Smits) in Dexter’s life (as his own personal Frankenstein) cements the circularity of the narrative, but the most subversive element of this momentum is the faux transitive relationship established between the serial murderer and his colleagues. By year’s end, every one in the Miami Metro Homicide Department, like their buddy Dexter, has gone around the law in the salutary pursuit of justice.  Timothy Gabriele

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How I Met Your Mother

Cast: Josh Radnor, Jason Segal, Alyson Hannigan, Neil Patrick Harris, Cobie Smulders
Regular airtime: Mondays, 8:30pm ET


Review [3.Oct.2005]


How I Met Your Mother CBS

LEGEN- what, too easy? Because that’s really the only word that accurately describes the excellent maturation of How I Met Your Mother. The show began a string of brilliant episodes in September and really hasn’t stopped since. Neil Patrick Harris remains the biggest reason to watch, but this year has found Cobie Smulders digging into some real comedic meat and, depending on the episode, matching Harris’ scene stealery. Ted’s love life still drives the show (now via the lovely Sarah Chalke), leaving the aforementioned others, plus Marshall and Lily: TV’s Kookiest Couple, to elevate the comedy to atmospheric heights. Aaron Marsh

Topics: adam arkin | adam baldwin | adewale akinnuoye-agbaje | adrian grenier | aidan gillen | alec baldwin | alexander skarsgård | alyson hannigan | anna friel | anna paquin | anna torv | b.j. novak | benito martinez | billie piper | billy lush | blair brown | brooke langton | catherine dent | cch pounder | chance kelly | chi mcbride | christina hendricks | christopher eccleston | cobie smulders | damian lewis | dan castellaneta | daniel dae kim | danny devito | david rees snell | david zayas | dean winters | debbi mazar | dominic monaghan | dominic west | edward james olmos | elisabeth moss | elizabeth mitchell | erik king | evangeline lilly | frankie faison | gail simmons | glenn close | glenn howerton | grace park | gracie lazar | hank azaria | harold perrineau | harry shearer | heidi klum | isaac hayes | jack mcbrayer | james ransone | james remar | jamie bamber | jane krakowski | jason segal | jay karnes | jenna fischer | jennifer carpenter | jeremy piven | jerry ferrara | john doman | john krasinski | john noble | john simm | john slattery | jon hamm | jon huertas | jon stewart | jorge garcia | josh holloway | josh radnor | joshua gomez | joshua jackson | julie benz | julie kavner | kaitlin olson | katee sackhoff | katie lee joel | kenneth johnson | kevin connolly | kevin dillon | kirk acevedo | kristin chenoweth | lance reddick | laura weedman | lauren velez | lee pace | lee tergesen | lena headey | lewis black | maggie siff | mary mcdonnell | matt stone | matt walsh | matthew fox | michael c. hall | michael chiklis | michael emerson | michael jace | michael raymond-james | mo rocca | mona marshall | nancy cartwright | nancy wells | naveen andrews | neil patrick harris | phil keoghan | philip glenister | rachel dratch | rachel maddow | rainn wilson | richard t. jones | robin weigert | rudy reyes | rutina wesley | ryan kwanten | sarah lancaster | sarah shahi | scott adsit | stacey grenrock-woods | stark sands | steve carell | steve corell | steven colbert | summer glau | terry o'quinn | the daily show with jon stewart | thomas dekker | tim gunn | tina fey | tom colicchio | tracy morgan | trey parker | tricia helfer | vincent kartheiser | walton goggins | yeardley smith | yunjin kim | yvonne strahovski | zachary levi

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