Back to Basics - The 30 Best TV Shows of 2008

by PopMatters Staff

11 January 2009


10 -1

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The Sarah Connor ChroniclesSeason One: First Two
Cast: Lena Headey, Thomas Dekker, Summer Glau, Richard T. Jones, Dean Winters
Regular airtime: Mondays, 9pm ET

US: 13 Jan 2008


Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles Fox

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles is a sci-fi series that treads very lightly on the “sci”. (It has a time-travel logic so vague and fragmented it makes Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure look sophisticated.) Instead of geeky musings about space-time, we are instead treated to scenes where cyborgs engage in building-demolishing fist-fights with other cyborgs—and hot ones, too. Sure, sometimes we have to endure Sarah’s deadpan voiceover before the action kicks in, but eventually she’ll be interrogating future Skynet engineers or busting up some metal. It’s like 24 with robots. Marisa LaScala

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It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

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

US: 4 Aug 2005


It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia FX

As a show that began life as the funniest thing on TV, the fact that It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia continues to top itself episode after episode hardly seems possible. But the gang proved that they could do just that every week with Season Four. From a pooping mystery to cannibalism to a dizzying musical finale entitled “The Night Man Cometh”, the Sunny gang proves they can take absolutely any subject and craft a brilliant stream of laughs around it, mostly due to the astounding comedic prowess of the principle actors. Season Four cements its place as this generation’s Seinfeld. Aaron Marsh

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Pushing Daisies

Series Premiere
Cast: Lee Pace, Anna Friel, Chi McBride, Kristin Chenoweth
Regular airtime: Wednesdays, 8pm ET

US: 3 Oct 2007

Review [4.Oct.2007]


Pushing Daises ABC

There’s no question that television will be all the worse for Pushing Daisies’ cancellation. We’ll lose the only show that trades in magic—and not just the kind of magic that allows piemaker Ned to bring people back from the dead. We’ll lose the magic associated with Daisies’ candy-colored world, a world in which shipwrecked lighthouse keepers return for their lost loves, high-stakes poker games are played with dim-sum dishes, and magicians take center-stage at the Conjurer’s Castle. With the show’s cancellation goes the whole kooky universe—and its lovable characters, who can talk a mile a minute and sing a heartbreaking version of “Eternal Flame”—and they will sorely be missed. Marisa LaScala

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The Daily Show With Jon Stewart

Director: Comedy Central and Mad Cow Productions
Creator: Mad Cow Productions
Cast: Jon Stewart, Lewis Black, Steven Colbert, Steve Corell, Stacey Grenrock-Woods, Mo Rocca, Matt Walsh, Nancy Wells, Laura Weedman
Regular airtime: Daily

(Comedy Central)

Review [1.Jan.1995]


The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Comedy Central

If, indeed, this was the most important election of our lifetime, then The Daily Show with Jon Stewart was our most important election guide. While political pundits were paraded out each week on other news shows, The Daily Show featured the true newsmakers of the past year, and made the year’s election and news palatable, without all the partisan spin and personal attacks. OK, there was a lot of spin and attacks, but they were damn funny and skewered both sides of the blue/red divide with equal irreverence. Michael Abernethy

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The Wire

Cast: Dominic West, John Doman, Frankie Faison, Aidan Gillen, Deidre Lovejoy

US: 2 Jun 2002

Review [26.Jan.2008]
Review [20.Sep.2006]


The Wire HBO

The challenge for The Wire‘s final season was to bring finality to a show normally committed to the open-endedness of relationships and institutions. Along the way, maybe McNulty’s scam strains credulity, maybe the newspaper appears too late, and maybe the closing montage seems more problematic than it might otherwise, but these (arguable) flaws stem from the imperative for closure to a narrative that resists the need. Whether season five is as “good” as the others or not, the only way to judge the series is against itself. The Wire was and is that singular. Shaun Huston

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Battlestar Galactica

Cast: Edward James Olmos, Mary McDonnell, Katee Sackhoff, Jamie Bamber, Grace Park, Tricia Helfer
Regular airtime: Fridays, 9pm

(Sci Fi Channel)
US: 8 Dec 2003


Battlestar Galactica The SciFi Channel

Oh Sci-Fi Channel, why do you torture us? After enjoying just 10 thrilling episodes of Battlestar Galactica, how can you expect us to wait until mid-January for the end? After revealing four of the final five Cylons, this show deftly presents each figure’s divergent reaction to the stunning news.  We also see more craziness from the returning Starbuck, who claims she knows how to find Earth, and Gaius Baltar, who’s become a messiah for impressionable youngsters.  Instead of resting on its laurels, this amazing drama continues to reach frakkin’ greater heights, culminating with a shocking cliffhanger. It’s hard to imagine how the final episodes could top the last group, but I expect they’ll find a way to prove doubters wrong once again. So say we all. Dan Heaton

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The Office

Cast: Steve Carell, John Krasinski, B.J. Novak, Jenna Fischer, Rainn Wilson
Regular airtime: Thursdays, 9:30pm ET


Review [11.Oct.2007]
Review [22.May.2007]
Review [28.Sep.2006]
Review [26.Sep.2005]
Review [21.Mar.2005]
Review [10.Feb.2003]
Review [1.Jan.1995]


The Office NBC

The Office‘s 2008 run focused its attentions on absurdist character-driven stories, branching out to include lesser utilized office members like Phyllis, Stanley, Toby, and Meredith.  It was a sharp contrast to the poignant clash between Gordon Gecko (Ryan) and Willie Loman (Michael) that dominated the opening half of 2007, but the show, in its ever-expansive vocabulary of minutiae, continues to be a savage critique of the dehumanizing effect of modern corporatism. The latter half of Season Four and the beginning of Season Five were all about reversals of fortune (Michael and Holly as Pam and Jim, Dwight as Jim, Andy as Dwight, Ryan recast as temp), the recursive sort that made both Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s BBC series and previous seasons such a hilariously caustic gaze into the dead-end white-collar work space. Timothy Gabriele

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Mad Men

Cast: Jon Hamm, John Slattery, Vincent Kartheiser, Christina Hendricks, Elisabeth Moss, Maggie Siff
Regular airtime: Thursdays, 10pm ET

US: 19 Jul 2007

Review [25.Jul.2007]


Mad Men AMC

Highly acclaimed for its superb writing, compelling characters, and subtle, sophisticated story development, Mad Men is more than just the best TV of 2008. It is an enduring classic. Mad Men has a darkness to it that both veils and exposes the secrets we tell ourselves and others—Don’s secret past, Betty’s loneliness and disappointment, or Joan’s not so perfect doctor fiancé. Mad Men captures an era of American culture and history and exposes its underbelly—of both individuals and institutions—in way that makes nostalgia impossible. Every detail of this series from the costumes and sets to the development of characters and story lines, speak to the quality of Mad Men and the ensemble cast brings a dimension to the show that explores issues or race, class, gender, religion, sexuality with subtle, brutal honesty. Sarah Hentges

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30 Rock

Series Premiere
Cast: Tina Fey, Tracy Morgan, Jane Krakowski, Scott Adsit, Jack McBrayer, Alec Baldwin, Rachel Dratch
Regular airtime: Wednesdays, 8pm ET

US: 11 Oct 2006

Review [16.Jan.2008]


30 Rock NBC

2008 was a shiny year for Tina Fey, but even alongside the endlessly replayed Sarah Palin impressions, the glammed-up magazine covers, or the big-screen success in Baby Mama, her work as creator, writer, and star of 30 Rock glows brightest. The show—ostensibly a behind-the-scenes workplace farce but really a cultural epicenter as surreal as New York City itself—only aired 12 new episodes in 2008, but a BBC-like percentage of them were instant classics like “Sandwich Day” (which perfectly entwined Liz Lemon’s irritability, fumbling love life, and food obsessions) or “Gavin Volure”, the funniest Steve Martin’s been since Bowfinger (except maybe his Baby Mama cameo, also for Fey). Would that every media darling was as talented and generous. Jesse Hassenger

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Cast: Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Naveen Andrews, Henry Ian Cusick, Michael Emerson, Matthew Fox, Jorge Garcia, Josh Holloway, Daniel Dae Kim, Yunjin Kim, Evangeline Lilly, Elizabeth Mitchell, Dominic Monaghan, Terry O’Quinn, Harold Perrineau
Regular airtime: Wednesdays, 9pm ET

US: 4 Oct 2006

Review [3.Jun.2008]
Review [6.Feb.2008]
Review [31.May.2007]
Review [12.Feb.2007]
Review [3.Oct.2006]
Review [14.Jun.2005]
Review [4.Oct.2004]
Review [1.Jan.1995]


Lost ABC

“How can you watch that show? Nothing happens!” It’s a question every Lost fan has to tolerate, and to which we can now simply answer: season four. Abbreviated both by design and strike-imposed necessity, the 2008 season offered no shortage of innovations. From the brilliant flash forwards, to the expertly expanded cast, to the abundance of revelations (both slight and substantial) spread throughout all 14 hours, season four wasn’t so much a reinvention of the series as the next step in its designed evolution, thankfully accelerated by the network’s willingness to set an end date. Though one suspects the show’s greatest pleasures are still in store, this antepenultimate chapter was as good as Lost has ever been, and just about as good as TV gets. Nav Purewal

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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