Best Television 2002

Michael Abernethy

It's been about 8,760 hours since the last time that I wrote a year-end best list. Considering that I receive 68 channels on my television, if you count the local job hotline/community bulletin board station, that means 595,680 broadcast hours of television went coursing through the cable lines to my television set. Due to work, sleep, evenings out, and the fact that I can only watch one station at a time, I missed about 594,000 of those 595,680 hours.

Kind of makes you wonder what qualifies me to write this list, doesn't it? But write I shall. No one, not even the most avid television critic or diehard Emmy voter, saw every show on tv in the past year, but that doesn't stop them from declaring their picks for tv's best, either. So, based on my paltry 1,500 hours of viewing, here are my choices of what and who excelled on television in the last year and who didn't:


>USA Network, Fridays 10pm ET serif">USA Network, Fridays 10pm ET

We Belong Together: Adrian Monk and Sharona Fleming, Monk.
The chemistry between Tony Shalhoub as an obsessive-compulsive detective and Bitty Schram as his exasperated, yet awe-struck assistant is delightful. No two actors on tv play off each other as well as these two, and they do it without the usual sexual tension, when-are-these-two-gonna-hook-up? subplot that plagues many tv couples. It's their interaction that makes Monk the Best New Show on TV.


>ABC, Sundays, 9pm ET serif">ABC, Sundays, 9pm ET

Mommy Dearest of the Year: Irina Derevko, Alias.
Even Joan Crawford would be appalled at the behavior of Sydney Bristow's mother, chillingly played by the wonderful Lena Olin. After a separation of 20 years, Irina used their surprise reunion as an opportunity to shoot her daughter. And you thought your mom could be a bitch.

Six Feet Under
There are No Small Parts: Harriet Harris on Six Feet Under.
Harris set Broadway on its ear with her Tony-winning performance in Thoroughly Modern Millie last spring. Those who couldn't make it to New York City should seek out her first, brief appearance on this show in the episode, "In Place of Anger" (she returned later in the season). As an abused wife standing over her dead husband's coffin, Harris was mesmerizing as she snarled, "Look at you, you fucking pig. I'm glad you're dead... And I hope it hurt like hell!"

Boston Public

>Fox, Tuesdays, 8pm EST serif">Fox, Tuesdays, 8pm EST

There May be Small Actors, but...: Lesley Jordan on Boston Public.
Often typecast as a diminutive, mousy middle-aged man, Harris poignantly portrayed the pain that geeks and nerds endure in the role of a shy schoolteacher falsely accused of being a sexual predator.


>WB, Sundays, 9pm ET serif">WB, Sundays, 9pm ET

Most Playful Dialogue. Perhaps hearing the death knoll for Buffy, the Vampire Slayer tolling, creator Joss Whedon seems to have turned his attention to Buffy's spin-off, Angel. Once the darkest show on tv, Angel's scripts this past season have been both dramatic and surprisingly witty.

Which leads us to the Best Character Transformation -- Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter) on Angel.
When Cordelia was introduced on Buffy, she was a teen diva, nastier than most of the demons Buffy slaughtered. Six years and one series jump later, Cordelia is so full of goodness that she ascended to a higher dimension last season. Yet, her progression from diva to divinity has been totally believable.

Great Performances

>PBS, Check local listings serif">PBS, Check local listings

A Little Culture, Please: Contact.
Choreographer and director Susan Stroman's three-act musical already cleaned up at the Tonys two years ago. Thanks to PBS' Great Performances, even the folks in Tinyville, U.S.A., had the opportunity to enjoy this brilliantly conceived festival of storytelling through dance.

Judging Amy

>CBS, Tuesdays, 10pm ET serif">CBS, Tuesdays, 10pm ET

Take it to the Max: Tyne Daly as Maxine Gray, Judging Amy.
Daly has been so good for so long that many take her considerable talents for granted (see the annual grumbling over her annual Emmy nomination). Still, Daly proved there are few actors better than she in the episode entitled "The Justice League of America," concerning Maxine's search for a suicidal teen. If I were ever in trouble, I'd be thrilled to have either Maxine Gray or Tyne Daly in my corner fighting.


>UPN, Wednesdays, 8pm ET serif">UPN, Wednesdays, 8pm ET

Stuck Between a Rock and a Hard Place Set Design: the design team for Enterprise.
Since Enterprise takes place in a time before any of its predecessors, designers had to make the sets look like they were the prototype for the original, cheesy (by today's standards) Star Trek, while keeping the techno-cool look fans of the newer ST series have come to expect. Too bad the damn things get blown up every week.

The Jamie Kennedy Experiment

>WB, Thursdays, 9pm ET serif">WB, Thursdays, 9pm ET

Who Was That Masked Man?: The make-up team of The Jamie Kennedy Experiment.
It's hard to make a young, thin redheaded man look like anything other than a young, thin redheaded man. But the entire premise of this show depends on the makeup team making Jamie Kennedy look like someone other than Jamie Kennedy. Other makeup teams probably have harder jobs, especially those working sci-fi shows, but no show relies so heavily on these artists for its success.

The Laramie Project

>HBO, Check listings serif">HBO, Check listings

Bang, Bang, You're Dead

>Showtime, Check listings serif">Showtime, Check listings

We're All in This Together: The Laramie Project and Bang, Bang, You're Dead.
While neither cable film was exceptional, both are notable for examining how social tragedies affect not only the main players, but the folks standing on the sidelines as well. For instance, how many of us considered the nightmares suffered by the young man who found Matthew Shepard's body or the guilt of the principal who failed to recognize the "teasing" that resulted in school violence?

Wishful Thinking:
If we're lucky, the following will cease in the coming year:

  • Anna Nicole Smith's weekly excursions into the wonderland that is her mind.
  • All reality shows that seek to hook up dumb horny men with dumb horny women.
  • American Idol: The idea for the show is fine, but c'mon folks, they're not picking the next Savior of all Mankind. A little perspective, please.
  • Biography shows: We now know everything about everybody. Stop already.
  • Fear Factor: It's no longer about conquering your fears; it's about indulging in the most disgusting acts possible without puking.
  • "Special episodes": If you believe NBC's ad department, each episode of ER is a very special hour of tv that you don't want to miss. Ever hear of the boy who cried "wolf"?
  • Judge Judy: She might be a good judge if she weren't such a rude and judgmental bitch.

And finally, a personal note to David E. Kelley: Plan out a year's worth of Boston Public episodes, pull the plug on The Practice, and stop coming up with ideas for dumb series about a trio of women. Then go take some time off. Let your wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) pay the bills for a while. Then, when your rested, relaxed, and have something new to say, come back. I'll wait for you.

Room won't allow me to discuss everyone I feel worthy of praise, so imagine there is a part two to this article which discusses Josh Groban's concert on Great Performances, Janel Maloney and Stockard Channing of The West Wing, Cynthia Nixon of Sex and the City, Graham Greene of the quickly cancelled Wolf Lake, Albert Finney in The Gathering Storm, Alyson Hannigan and James Marsters of Buffy (Emmy noms for both, please), the writing staff for Friends and the special effects team for Smallville.

There are more who deserve to be recognized. But as much debating as I did over who to put on and who to leave off this list, it is probably best that I only saw 1,500 hours in the last year. Otherwise, there might be parts two through 10 of this list as well. And the world needs that about as much as another MTV Real World marathon.

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