Back to Basics – The 30 Best TV Shows of 2008

TV Show: Summer Heights High
Network: HBO
Cast: Chris Lilley, Elida Brereton, Stan Roach, David Lennie
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/tv_art/s/summer-heights-high.jpg
Website: http://www.abc.net.au/tv/summerheightshigh/
MPAA rating: N/A

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List number: 30

Summer Heights High

HBO

High school as a bastion of comical coming of age nightmares — now there’s something original. Or how about the one man show in which a talented foreign actor takes on every role as part of some sketch/skit style spoof? If both of those ideas seem overplayed, then you have yet to see this sensational HBO import starring Australia’s Chris Lilley. Actually his second stint in the mock-documentary format, the talented chameleon essays the series three primary characters — the two faced Ja’mie King, the narcissistic Mr. G, and troublemaker Jonah Takula — and, with interaction between other performers, brings the realities of the Hell known as higher education to ludicrous, loony light. Bill Gibron

Summer Heights High

TV Show: The Soup
US release date: 2004-07-01
Network: E! Entertainment
Cast: Joel McHale
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/t/the_soup_set.png
Website: http://www.eonline.com/on/shows/thesoup/index.jsp
MPAA rating: N/A

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List number: 29

The Soup

E! Entertainment Television

To watch The Soup — the E! Network’s weekly roundup of pop culture “news” and clips from a wide array of truly awful programming — is to witness television talking to itself in a self-referential sweat-soaked fever dream just before it begins to convulse in its death throes. Hosted with glib, winking incredulity by comedian Joel McHale, the show is an endless parade of high level, meta-absurdity as the bottomless trough of bad television is tapped to its very dregs and trotted out for condemnation and celebration. Essential by the very virtue of the inessentialness of its fodder, The Soup is the only truly appointment worthy viewing left on the dial. Jake Meaney

The Soup

TV Show: The Rachel Maddow Show
US release date: 2008-09-08
Network: MSNBC
Cast: Rachel Maddow
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/tv_art/t/the-rachel-maddow-show.jpg
Website: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/26315908/
MPAA rating: N/A
Airtime: Weeknights, 9pm

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List number: 28

The Rachel Maddow Show

MSNBC

After decades of shtick heavy right wing pundits, it’s only fair that the left get their televisual due — and no one does liberal snark better than MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. It was only a matter of time before the Air America radio host replaced underachieving talking heads like Dan Abrams and Joe Scarborough as part of the post-Chris Matthews/Keith Olbermann news block. And with regular features like “Talk Me Down” (in which a guest tries to calm Rachel’s spin anxiety) and “Ms. Information” (focusing on underreported stories), her irreverent approach to the day’s headlines make for wonderfully acerbic viewing. Bill Gibron

The Rachel Maddow Show

TV Show: Life on Mars
US release date: 2006-01-09
Network: BBC
Cast: John Simm, Philip Glenister, Liz White
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/l/life-on-mars.jpg
Website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/lifeonmars/
MPAA rating: N/A

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List number: 27

Life on Mars

BBC America

At 16 episodes, the original Life on Mars ran far too short. Worst of all, the series ends by opening up, not closing off, metaphysical possibilities. Sam Tyler’s (John Simm) weekly intonation about being “mad, in a coma, or back in time” notwithstanding, the finale raises other ideas, notably that he’s native to 1973. And by the time he jumps into the blue and “returns” to Manchester in the ’70s, anything seems possible. We’ll never know, and more’s the pity. Shaun Huston

Life on Mars

TV Show: Project Runway
Subtitle: Season Three Finale
US release date: 2006-10-18
Network: Bravo
Cast: Heidi Klum, Tim Gunn
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/tv_art/p/project-runway-2006.jpg
Website: http://www.bravotv.com/Project_Runway/
MPAA rating: N/A
Trailer: http://dw.com.com/redir?ltype=&siteid=45&edid=3&asId=&astId=&ptId=&ontid=49&ttag=vid_7265&lop=vid_sum&orderId=&destURL=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.tv.com%2Fmedia_player%2F7265%2F4%2Fviewer.php%3Fcontext_type%3D101%26context_id%3D26278%26tag%3Dvideos%3Bbutton%3B36
Airtime: Wednesdays, 10pm ET

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List number: 26

Project Runway

Bravo

The exciting thing about most reality shows is the manufactured drama of “real situations”, but Project Runway is truly all about the clothes and the talent. The mix of designers was odd this time; most were talented to a degree, but there was no one who stood out as fiercely as last season’s Christian Siriano. Still, the final five had a ridiculous amount of ability between them. A late season dose of trying to inject some villiany aside (which I hope the producers realize didn’t work), this continues to be one of the few reality shows worth watching. Aaron Marsh

Project Runway

TV Show: Fringe
Subtitle: Series Premiere
US release date: 2008-09-09
Network: Fox
Cast: Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson, John Noble, Lance Reddick, Kirk Acevedo, Blair Brown
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/f/fringe_ver10.jpg
Website: http://www.fox.com/fringe/
MPAA rating: N/A
Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZAu4L5_Fl84
Airtime: Tuesdays, 8pm ET

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List number: 25

Fringe

Fox

The networks’ best new series was Fringe, a J.J. Abrams vehicle with another big conspiracy and some crazy twists. Does this sound familiar? There are some major difference, however. There’s an ongoing story, but the style is more reminiscent of The X-Files than Alias or Lost. Most episodes are one-off tales covering a nasty aspect of “fringe science”. Anna Torv does a nice job as the lead Olivia Dunham, but the breakout role is John Noble’s seriously off-kilter Walter Bishop. With Joshua Jackson (Pacey!) and The Wire‘s Lance Reddick in the cast, there’s plenty to like each week. We still don’t know much about “The Pattern”, but the small hints offer lots of promise for the rest of the season. Dan Heaton

Fringe

TV Show: The Amazing Race
Network: CBS
Cast: Phil Keoghan
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/tv_art/a/amazing-race-2005.jpg
Airtime: Tuesdays, 9pm ET

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List number: 24

The Amazing Race

CBS

In its early days, it was impossible to expect that CBS’ reality gem would last 13 seasons. Although the latest incarnations were not the series’ best, they still maintain enough memorable teams and exciting tasks to keep us watching. The 12th season had an entirely likable final three, which has never happened. This included the grandpa/grandson team Don and Nick, who blew by the arrogant young teams to make the last leg. The 13th entry included Andrew and Dan, two completely inept frat guys who bungled their way through each task but somehow reached the finish line. Neither team won the million, but both kept us entertained each week and showed why The Amazing Race still delivers great fun. Dan Heaton

The Amazing Race

TV Show: Doctor Who
Network: The Sci-Fi Channel
Cast: Christopher Eccleston, Billie Piper
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/tv_art/d/dr-who-060412.jpg
Airtime: Fridays, 9pm ET

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List number: 23

Dr. Who

BBC America

This year, The Dr. and Donna visited the Titanic and Pompeii, helped Agatha Christie, and had a “sliding door” vision of what might have been, but it was the battle against the Daleks that kept the series gripping. Most sci-fi shows have apocalyptic storylines, but Dr. Who‘s season-end story excelled where others fail. The two-part closer brought back old characters, united all the different factions of the Dr.’s world, and forever altered the landscape of the series. Most of all, the series — with tongue planted firmly in cheek — made viewers think about what it means to be human. Michael Abernethy

Doctor Who

TV Show: South Park
Network: Comedy Central
Cast: Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Isaac Hayes, Gracie Lazar, Mona Marshall
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/tv_art/s/south-park-051026.jpg
Airtime: Wednesdays, 10pm

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List number: 22

South Park

Comedy Central

Diminished ratings or creative atrophy keep most shows from reaching their 12th seasons. And when a show does survive past 12, the age lines show. Take any recent episode of The Simpsons as ample evidence. South Park’s 12th season, on the other hand, was fantastic. While not quite up to the level of the past few years, it contained two of the series’ most inspired episodes. Take “Tonsil Trouble,” a brilliant episode that’s ample AIDS jokes stretch even South Park’s limits of good taste, but that manages to redeem itself with a devastating closing sight gag. “The China Problem” isn’t quite so perfect, but its disturbingly literal take on fanboys’ accusations of raped childhoods at the hands of George Lucas should live on as one of the most disgusting, and hilarious, moments in the series’ history. All in all, it was a season to remember. As Cartman might say, “I’m not just sure, I’m HIV-positive.” Nav PurewalSouth Park

TV Show: The Simpsons
Network: Fox
Cast: Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Harry Shearer, Hank Azaria
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/tv_art/s/simpsons-2006.png
Website: http://www.thesimpsons.com/
First date: 1989-12-17
Airtime: Sundays, 8:00pm

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List number: 21

The Simpsons

Fox

What is there to say about The Simpsons that haven’t been said over its 20 seasons? It’s become just as important as the nightly news and its commanding relevancy, contrary to critical belief, has not slowed down a bit. Staying up to date with current issues and the world at large, Homer & the Gang have been informing us through comedy of many of the world’s tragedies — an enormous achievement in itself. John BohannonThe Simpsons

20 – 11

TV Show: Attack of the Show
US release date: 2005-03-28
Network: G4 Television
Cast: Kevin Pereira, Olivia Munn
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/tv_art/a/attack_of_the_show.jpg
Website: http://www.g4tv.com/attackoftheshow/index.html
MPAA rating: N/A
Airtime: Weeknights, 7pm

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List number: 20

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

Attack of the Show

TV Show: Life
Subtitle: Series Premiere
US release date: 2007-09-26
Network: NBC
Cast: Damian Lewis, Sarah Shahi, Adam Arkin, Robin Weigert, Brooke Langton
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/tv_art/l/life.jpg
Website: http://www.nbc.com/Life/
MPAA rating: N/A
Trailer: http://tv.yahoo.com/life/show/40562/videos;_ylt=ApgnA7gJ_WMm41VRWgcdbe2apoh4
Airtime: Wednesdays, 10pm ET

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List number: 19

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

Life

TV Show: Generation Kill
Subtitle: Series Premiere
US release date: 2008-07-13
Network: HBO
Cast: Jon Huertas, Alexander Skarsgård, James Ransone, Stark Sands, Billy Lush, Lee Tergesen, Rudy Reyes, Chance Kelly
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/tv_art/g/generation-kill1.jpg
Website: http://www.hbo.com/generationkill/?ntrack_para1=feat_main_image
MPAA rating: N/A
Trailer: http://tv.yahoo.com/generation-kill/show/37347/videos;_ylt=AsZ3hazbK6L3Tb1Yy0pOljhZkph4
Airtime: Sundays, 9pm ET

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List number: 18

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

Generation Kill

TV Show: Entourage
Network: HBO
Cast: Adrian Grenier, Kevin Dillon, Kevin Connolly, Jerry Ferrara, Jeremy Piven, Debbi Mazar
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/tv_art/e/entourage.png
Website: http://www.hbo.com/entourage/
MPAA rating: N/A
Airtime: Sundays, 10pm

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List number: 17

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

Entourage

TV Show: The Shield
Network: FX
Cast: Michael Chiklis, Glenn Close, CCH Pounder, Benito Martinez, Jay Karnes, Michael Jace, Catherine Dent, Walton Goggins, Kenneth Johnson, David Rees Snell
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/tv_art/s/shield-2005.jpg
Airtime: Tuesdays, 10pm ET

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List number: 16

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

The Shield

TV Show: True Blood
Subtitle: Series Premiere
US release date: 2008-09-07
Network: HBO
Cast: Anna Paquin, Ryan Kwanten, Rutina Wesley, Michael Raymond-James
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/tv_art/t/truebloodcard.jpg
Website: http://www.hbo.com/trueblood/
MPAA rating: N/A
Trailer: http://mefeedia.com/entry/true-blood-trailer-hbo/10997703
Airtime: Sundays, 9pm ET

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List number: 15

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

True Blood

TV Show: Top Chef
Network: Bravo
Cast: Tom Colicchio, Katie Lee Joel, Gail Simmons
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/tv_art/t/top-chef-060315.jpg
Airtime: Wednesdays, 9pm ET

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List number: 14

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

Top Chef

TV Show: Chuck
Subtitle: Series Premiere
US release date: 2007-09-24
Network: NBC
Cast: Zachary Levi, Adam Baldwin, Yvonne Strahovski, Joshua Gomez, Sarah Lancaster
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/tv_art/c/chuck-nbc.jpg
Website: http://www.nbc.com/Chuck/
MPAA rating: N/A
Trailer: http://www.nbc.com/Chuck/video/#mea=151608
Airtime: Mondays, 8pm ET

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List number: 13

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

Chuck

TV Show: Dexter
Subtitle: Season One First Three
US release date: 2006-10-01
Network: Showtime
Cast: Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Carpenter, Erik King, David Zayas, Julie Benz, Lauren Velez, James Remar, C.S. Lee
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/tv_art/d/dexter-showtime.jpg
Website: http://www.sho.com/site/dexter/home.do
MPAA rating: N/A
Trailer: http://a1959.g.akamai.net/shocomstor.download.akamai.com/8606/partner/m80/323_101c_700.wmv
Airtime: Sundays, 10pm ET

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List number: 12

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

Dexter

TV Show: How I Met Your Mother
Network: CBS
Cast: Josh Radnor, Jason Segal, Alyson Hannigan, Neil Patrick Harris, Cobie Smulders
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/tv_art/h/how-i-met-your-mother-051003.jpg
Airtime: Mondays, 8:30pm ET

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List number: 11

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

How I Met Your Mother

10 -1

TV Show: Terminator
Subtitle: The Sarah Connor ChroniclesSeason One: First Two
US release date: 2008-01-13
Network: Fox
Cast: Lena Headey, Thomas Dekker, Summer Glau, Richard T. Jones, Dean Winters
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/tv_art/t/terminator-the-sarah-connor.jpg
Website: http://www.fox.com/terminator/
MPAA rating: N/A
Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OjLne16FKmQ
Airtime: Mondays, 9pm ET

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List number: 10

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

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

TV Show: It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
US release date: 2005-08-04
Network: FX
Cast: Charlie Day, Glenn Howerton, Rob McElhenney, Kaitlin Olson, Danny DeVito
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/tv_art/i/it_s_always_sunny_in_philad.jpg
Website: http://www.fxnetworks.com/shows/originals/sunny/
MPAA rating: N/A

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List number: 9

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 MarshIt’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

TV Show: Pushing Daisies
Subtitle: Series Premiere
US release date: 2007-10-03
Network: ABC
Cast: Lee Pace, Anna Friel, Chi McBride, Kristin Chenoweth
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/tv_art/p/pushing-daisies-card.jpg
Website: http://abc.go.com/primetime/pushingdaisies/index
MPAA rating: N/A
Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9qikoHqugOs
Airtime: Wednesdays, 8pm ET

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List number: 8

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

Pushing Daisies

Display Artist: Comedy Central and Mad Cow Productions
Creator: Comedy Central
Creator: Mad Cow Productions
TV Show: The Daily Show With Jon Stewart
Network: Comedy Central
Cast: Jon Stewart, Lewis Black, Steven Colbert, Steve Corell, Stacey Grenrock-Woods, Mo Rocca, Matt Walsh, Nancy Wells, Laura Weedman
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/tv_art/t/the-daily-show-with-jon-ste.jpg
MPAA rating: N/A
Airtime: Daily

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List number: 7

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 AbernethyThe Daily Show With Jon Stewart

TV Show: The Wire
US release date: 2002-06-02
Network: HBO
Cast: Dominic West, John Doman, Frankie Faison, Aidan Gillen, Deidre Lovejoy
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/tv_art/w/wire-2006.jpg
Website: http://www.hbo.com/thewire/
MPAA rating: N/A

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List number: 6

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

The Wire

TV Show: Battlestar Galactica
US release date: 2003-12-08
Network: Sci Fi Channel
Cast: Edward James Olmos, Mary McDonnell, Katee Sackhoff, Jamie Bamber, Grace Park, Tricia Helfer
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/tv_art/b/battlestar-galactica-2006.jpg
Website: http://www.scifi.com/battlestar/
MPAA rating: N/A
Airtime: Fridays, 9pm

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List number: 5

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

Battlestar Galactica

TV Show: The Office
Network: NBC
Cast: Steve Carell, John Krasinski, B.J. Novak, Jenna Fischer, Rainn Wilson
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/tv_art/o/office_us.jpg
MPAA rating: N/A
Airtime: Thursdays, 9:30pm ET

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List number: 4

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

The Office

TV Show: Mad Men
US release date: 2007-07-19
Network: AMC
Cast: Jon Hamm, John Slattery, Vincent Kartheiser, Christina Hendricks, Elisabeth Moss, Maggie Siff
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/tv_art/m/mad-men.jpg
Website: http://madmen.amctv.com
MPAA rating: N/A
Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S9Qyk3ugM5A&mode=related&search=
Airtime: Thursdays, 10pm ET

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List number: 3

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

Mad Men

TV Show: 30 Rock
Subtitle: Series Premiere
US release date: 2006-10-11
Network: NBC
Cast: Tina Fey, Tracy Morgan, Jane Krakowski, Scott Adsit, Jack McBrayer, Alec Baldwin, Rachel Dratch
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/tv_art/3/30-rock1.jpg
Website: http://www.nbc.com/30_Rock/
MPAA rating: N/A
Trailer: http://www.nbc.com/30_Rock/
Airtime: Wednesdays, 8pm ET

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List number: 2

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

30 Rock

TV Show: Lost
US release date: 2006-10-04
Network: ABC
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
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/tv_art/l/lost-2006.jpg
Website: http://abc.go.com/primetime/lost/index
MPAA rating: N/A
Trailer: http://abc.go.com/fsp/index.html?channel=Lost
Airtime: Wednesdays, 9pm ET

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List number: 1

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

Lost

PopMatters