The 20 Best TV Shows of 2005

by PopMatters Staff

5 January 2006


The Shield

The Shield just keeps getting better. Glenn Close’s recruitment has beefed up proceedings, presenting Mackey (Michael Chiklis) with a brand new boss and whole new set of rules. Their eventual mutual respect developed well, and the introduction of Antwon Mitchell, the show’s dastardliest of crims, made for some gripping moments. Unforgettable were the forceful confrontations between Shane (Walt Goggins) and Mackey, former best friends turned enemies after last season’s money train mess. The Shield makes no bones about wearing its politics on its sleeve, and while much of the theorizing on street clean-up and combating gang warfare can be enlightening, The Shield was particularly memorable this year for its boldness, managing again to exceed previous seasons in terms of drama and grit.
Nikki Tranter PopMatters review Amazon


“I’m federal agent Jack Bauer and today is the longest day of my life” states the hero of one of the most innovative and acclaimed shows of the contemporary TV season. 24 is a compelling mix of creativity, unpredictability, intelligence, suspense and just damn good writing (which is refreshing in an industry where this is definitely not always the case). Throughout its four seasons, 24 has pretty much attached a cliffhanger to the end of every episode, keeping the viewer enthralled and intrigued week after week. As far as acting goes, you couldn’t ask for better. Kiefer Sutherland is absolutely astounding, leading a cast of exceptionally impressive and compelling actors/actresses who compile the addictive mix of intensity, mesmerizing action, and sheer talent. The premise of 24 lies in that each episode is one hour in the life of counter-terrorism agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland), making each season ‘24 hours’ long. This show is so damn good, it leaves the viewer eagerly anticipating the next ‘day’ in Jack’s unusual life.
Courtney Young PopMatters review Amazon

The Daily Show
(Comedy Central)

The Daily Show has, hands down, the best topical comedy writers in television. The headline gags are razor-honed, brainy but tight, and reveal by contrast the hack laziness of the other late-night guys. By also boasting the best host in the business — Jon Stewart is like next-generation TV star technology — it’s almost unfair how good this show is. 2005 will be remembered as the year The Daily Show really hit its stride, with its tenacious satire of media, war and government, and an unblinking assessment of what Katrina laid bare. If Mark Twain were alive, this would be the only show on his TiVo.
Glenn McDonald PopMatters review

South Park
(Comedy Central)

By now, it’s almost become a comedy cliché: every time we’re ready to write off South Park as tired and tapped out, creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone unearth another stellar batch of their enlightened social satire and deliver a season of exemplary shows. Now in it’s ninth go round, the series that started off as nothing more than a bunch of grade schoolers cursing like crackheads has grown into the most biting, observant pop culture critique of the last decade. Who else could take on the President, FEMA, Scientology, R Kelly, hippy rock festivals, alcoholism, juvenile erectile dysfunction and ginger kids while still maintaining a sense of scatological street cred? Along with their pitch perfect parodies of the commercial media and a real sense for what is inherently insane about all human nature, Parker and Stone have become more than some animated anomaly. What started out as a crappy cardboard cut-out cartoon has bloomed into an insightful comedy classic.
Bill Gibron PopMatters review Amazon


Perfection is impossible, but this TV show, which coins itself as “a disturbingly perfect drama,” comes close. Set in flashy Miami, nip/tuck focuses on two accomplished and very different plastic surgeons— Christian the swashbuckling lady killer and Sean the straight family man. Each episode sets up its premise with the line, “Tell me what you don’t like about yourself” and then takes off from there. So much happens in each episode that missing a nanosecond might cause you to overlook a tidbit crucial to the overall storyline. By the end of each episode, there’s been so much transformation (physically and mentally), hot sex, and witty banter that you might think you’ve just seen a two-and a half hour movie. Despite all the showy histrionics crammed into each episode, the show is wise to never take itself too seriously and often amps up the cheese factor to poke fun of itself.
Jennifer Makowsky PopMatters review Amazon

Veronica Mars

A tightly entertaining blend of high-school melodrama and detective series, this noir take on Nancy Drew has been getting better all year. The first season ended in May with an exciting crescendo, and the second began this fall with more ongoing plot threads — a mysterious bus crash that may have been murder; the alienation of Veronica’s best friend Wallace; the flaring class wars of fictional Neptune, CA — and an earned confidence in stitching them all together. Kristen Bell carries the day as funny, thoughtful, vengeful Veronica, but it’s the work of Enrico Colantoni as her P.I. father that continues to surprise with equal warmth and badassery.
Jesse Hassenger PopMatters review Amazon

The Simpsons

After 16 seasons, no show should be as good as it once was. It’s not aesthetically possible. But dare it be said, The Simpsons keeps getting better. Some may clamor that the golden days of the series are close to a decade past, but anyone whose been really watching the show of late can testify that Homer and his hapless kin are just now hitting their stride. Last season saw the show shift gears and tackle some dicey political issues, with hilarious send-ups of gay marriage, the cost of prescription drugs and the undue influence of religion in society. The new episodes have once again focused on the family, as Lisa tries to battle her fear of graveyards, Bart becomes a “momma’s boy” and Marge discovers the felonious designs within her new koffee klatch. Consistently funny, remarkably poignant and still as satirical and biting as ever, it’s quite conceivable that this series could go on forever. If it’s as good as it’s been in the past two seasons, who’s to say it shouldn’t?
Bill Gibron PopMatters review Amazon

House, MD

There’s little doubt House is one of the best hour-long dramas on TV ever. It’s full of sharp characters, intelligent dialogue, and a cast of actors so utterly superb it’s a real wonder Hugh Laurie (as Dr. Greg House) manages to stand out as much as he does. When the show began, Laurie’s damaged Dr. House seemed little more than a brilliant, acerbic prat. Toward its conclusion, he became far more compassionate and likable than we could ever have expected. With House at its center, the show centers on character without being melodramatic or soapy. It’s also a great place to pick up some wicked comebacks — like, for instance, when House’s best friend and colleague, Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard), suggests smugness is his most attractive quality, House responds: “It was that or get my hair highlighted.” He’s got a million of them.
Nikki Tranter PopMatters review


For a show so very pop (nearly pulp) in concept, Lost has shown an admirable willingness to tackle both big issues (faith vs. science; free will vs. fate) and delicate character arcs. The show presents as a sci-fi freakout (it’s certainly marketed as such), but the creators have a much more fascinating and complex topic in mind — people. Part sci-fi thriller, part melodrama, part existential mystery, Lost is a cross-genre mash-up with the creative heart of an adrenalin junkie. Can the writers maintain this juggling act? So far, so good in Season Two.
Glenn McDonald PopMatters review Amazon

Arrested Development

A stubbornly apathetic viewing public has nudged one of the best sitcoms ever to reduced episode orders, possible cancellation, and, hopefully, to Showtime or ABC. Arrested Development‘s creative team must be the picture of grace under the pressure, because while scheduling woes intensified, the show logged another banner year. As conventional wisdom said the show should make itself more accessible, the mock-soapy saga of the dysfunctional, conniving Bluth family fostered its own kind of stubbornness, growing weirder, denser, and more brilliant. The writers seem determined to experiment with every type of comedy imaginable, from slapstick to satire, from wordplay to sight gags. The cast is flawless; there is not a single weak link and every one of them deserves something way better than an Emmy — like, say, a fourth season.
Jesse Hassenger PopMatters review Amazon

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