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:: BEST TELEVISION 2004 By Michael Abernethy
I should admit up front that I’m a bad television reviewer. I haven’t joined the Arrested Development fan club and I don’t know what’s happening on Desperate Housewives. I really don’t care about America’s next or last top model. And I seem to be in the minority by thinking that this last season of The Sopranos was boring. In fact, I found most of the past year on television to be unexciting. So I looked for treasures in hidden places. Unusual Couples, part one:
Angus T. Jones (Jake) and Conchata Ferrell (Berta), Two and a Half Men (CBS)

Sheen and Cryer are good as odd-couple brothers, but the child actor and the sitcom veteran get the best laughs. If only they had more scenes together.
   :. original PopMatters review Like a Rock:
S. Epatha Merkerson (Lt. Anita Van Buren), Law & Order (NBC)

Merkerson rarely has scenery-chewing moments, but for 12 seasons, she has been consistently strong as Police Lieutenant Anita Van Buren. It’s a far cry from her days as Reba the mail lady on Pee-wee’s Playhouse.
   :. original PopMatters review Rising Star:
Don Rickles (Ira), The Wool Cap (TNT)

I’m no big Rickles fan and his part in this touching tv movie is small, but he gives a glimpse of what a great character actor he might become. The Boss From Hell:
John C. McGinley (Dr. Perry Cox), Scrubs (NBC)

Equal parts passive-aggression and just plain aggression, Cox may seem to be a big ass, but he’s also the most layered character on the series. McGinley makes him likable even when he shouldn’t be.
   :. original PopMatters review Unusual Couples, part two:
Michael Welch (Luke Girardi) and Becky Walhstrom (Grace Polk), Joan of Arcadia (CBS)

One of the most unlikely couples on tv is made totally believable by these two young actors. Stargate fans will recall that Welch does a mean impersonation of Richard Dean Anderson, as well.
   :. original PopMatters review Angel of Mercy, Guest Star:
Valerie Mahaffey, (Bonnie Toland), Without a Trace (CBS)

Mahaffey displayed both intensity and compassion in her guest appearance as a cancer sufferer who helps other cancer victims terminate their lives.
   :. original PopMatters review Angel of Mercy, Series Regular:
Patrick Breen (George Weiss), Kevin Hill, (UPN)

The most amazing thing about Weiss is his patience with new parent Hill; the most amazing thing about Breen is that the other actors can keep a straight face while he delivers his lines.
   :. original PopMatters review The New Claire Danes, Only Not:
Kristin Bell (Veronica), Veronica Mars (UPN)

Newcomer Bell plays one of the most complicated characters on television this year. Wise, naïve, vengeful, wounded, and caring—Bell plays her beautifully.
   :. original PopMatters review Series Finale of the Year:
Sex and the City (HBO)

A lot of shows expired this year, most deservedly, but of all the fond farewells we witnessed, none was better written than Sex and the City. The sentimental tear-jerking scene of the year belongs to Cynthia Nixon (Miranda) and Lynne Cohen (Magda): “What you did today… that was love.” Their interaction proves you don’t have to be over the top to be touching.
   :. original PopMatters review And my choice for up and coming director of the year would be Katja von Garneir, who made period piece Iron Jawed Angels (HBO) into a gripping, contemporary film. So much for what I liked this year. Unfortunately, I found more on television to criticize than praise, so here is a short list of the things that irked me the most: The Republican and Democratic National Conventions
No wonder the networks only give these things an hour of airtime. Gone are the days when the conventions were as gripping and contentious as a Linda Evans-Joan Collins catfight. Now they have all the drama of an episode of The Wiggles. Will & Grace (NBC)
Still like the show, but enough with the guest stars. The producers might note that a fictional world is more believable if the audience doesn’t recognize every person in it.
   :. original PopMatters review Steven “Cojo” Cojocaru, Entertainment Tonight (syndicated)
I understand Cojo has recently been diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease, and I wish him well. But can’t he be well and not mugging on tv at the same time? Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth, The Apprentice (NBC)
I considered putting her on my best list, because I haven’t enjoyed hating anyone on tv this much since Mr. Whipple retired. But, ultimately, I find it troubling that someone can gain so much fame from being a lying, conniving witch.
   :. original PopMatters review Fox News
The scariest thing about this insult to journalism is that people believe the crap the network spews. And, of course, no end-of-the-year list of mine would be complete if I didn’t point out that Fear Factor and Judge Judy are still the worst shows on television. But My Big, Fat, Obnoxious Fiancé isn’t far behind.

Michael has been writing for PopMatters since 2000. His primary focus, aside from queer culture, is television reviews and commentary, and his article Male Bashing on TV has been reprinted in two college textbooks. He currently lives in Louisville, KY, and is a Lecturer of Communication Studies at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany, IN. As a teacher, he has an interest in the study of contemporary political rhetoric and argumentation. He and his partner Jim have been living in un-wedded bliss since 1995.

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