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High Redefinition: The 30 Best TV Shows of 2007

In memoriam of a TV season cut down before its prime time, PopMatters staff celebrates the Top 30 TV Shows of 2007. Some are old favorites. Others have barely made their impression felt. But at a time when all broadcast fortunes are up in the air, they definitely deserve the recognition.

In some ways, this feels like an elegy, not a eulogy. Four short months ago, critics were clamoring for the new Fall TV season, celebrating inventive new shows, the return of established actors, and the ongoing reinvention of the medium itself. Phenomenons from 2006 were returning to even more buzz, long running series found ways to reboot, and an aura of experimentation and embracing the different seemed to drive every network's game plan (well, not every strategy, right Viva Laughlin?). Things were definitely looking up for the annually left for dead entertainment entity -- and some of the best material lay in wait for the inevitable midseason replacement call.

Then the writer's strike hit, and with it, the standard management circling of the wagons. Shows on the cusp were either cut or unceremoniously resurrected, while reality and news oriented programming was scraped for every non-scab fragment of an idea they could provide. Before long, smashes just out of the box were packing up production, while the so-called established series where metering out their current crop of product in financially determined drips and drabs. With no end to the contract dispute in sight, and numerous cancellations in the works, what promised to be one of the best Falls ever has turned into a gallery of missed golden opportunities and a real loss of media momentum.

So what we are left with now are the reminders -- and the eventual DVD release of same -- of what could have been. Within the next few weeks, many in the current nightly line-up will have to shut down, and once the lights have been dimmed and the set doors closed, opening it all back up will take Herculean efforts, not to mention a boatload of corporate cash. Not all networks may be willing to restart something that barely began in the first place. So in memoriam of a TV season cut down before its prime time, PopMatters staff celebrates the Top 30 TV Shows of 2007. Some are old favorites. Others have barely made their impression felt. But at a time when all broadcast fortunes are up in the air, they definitely deserve the recognition. After all, they remind us of what we'll be missing all too soon.

TV Show: This American Life US release date: 2007-03-22 Network: Showtime Cast: Ira Glass Image: http://images.popmatters.com/tv_art/t/this-american-life1.jpg Website: http://www.thislife.org/TV_Season.aspx MPAA rating: N/A

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List number: 30

This American Life

Showtime

Ira Glass' popular radio show with pictures, as Glass travels the country introducing viewers to the unique among us, sans editorializing. The simplicity of Glass' storytelling allows viewers to bring to the show whatever hue they have on their palate; one could view these stories of ordinary folks doing out of the ordinary things as slices of life or as exposure of the American psyche or as implied commentary on the social order. Regardless of one's perspective, the stories featured were always interesting and Glass' approach a pleasant change of pace from the muckraking of many newsmagazines. Michael Abernethy

This American Life

TV Show: Dirty Sexy Money Subtitle: Series Premiere US release date: 2007-09-26 Network: ABC Cast: Peter Krause, Donald Sutherland, Jill Clayburgh, William Baldwin, Seth Gabel, Zoe McLellan Image: http://images.popmatters.com/features_art/f/fall-tv-4-3.jpg Website: http://abc.go.com/primetime/dirtysexymoney/index MPAA rating: N/A Trailer: http://youtube.com/watch?v=luGhfdvI68c Airtime: Wednesdays, 10pm ET

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List number: 29

Dirty Sexy Money

ABC

Yep, Dirty Sexy Money is a soap opera at heart, but one fueled via thinly-veiled caricatures of the powerful and tabloid-friendly, imagined here as a single clan: the graying, disingenuous family patriarch with the smile one dares not trust, the asshole priest, the rising-star politico smitten by a tranny, the empty-headed 20-something scions, and so on. The lawyer hero -- our entry point into a growing web of secrets, lies, and double-crosses -- might not be as innocent as we'd like to believe. Time will tell, provided cancellation doesn't strike before we can find out whether or not the patriarch offed his lawyer's father. Ray Cummings

Dirty Sexy Money

TV Show: Ace of Cakes US release date: 2006-08-17 Network: Food Network Cast: Duff Goldman, Sherri Chambers, Anna Ellison, Adam Goldstein, Katherine Hill, Richard Todd Karoll, Geof Manthorne, Katie Rose, Mary Smith, Mary Alice Yeskey, Elena Fox Image: http://images.popmatters.com/tv_art/a/aceofcakes.jpg Website: http://www.aceofcakestv.com/ MPAA rating: N/A Airtime: Sunday, 11pm

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List number: 28

Ace of Cakes

Food Network

Ace of Cakes can be variously enjoyed for: mind blowing cake designs, the pleasure Duff & Company seem to take in their work, and its Baltimore locale. Ace of Cakes is not The Wire, or a Laura Lippman novel, or an early Barry Levinson film, but like such works, it is very much of its place. The series foregrounds the city, making it unique on the Food Network. Not only does “Charm City Cakes” derive from a Baltimore nickname, but episodes routinely feature city icons and landmarks. Examples from 2007 include John Waters, the Baltimore Zoo, and Camden Yards. Whatever it is that makes Baltimore's creative class invest in their city, Ace of Cakes has it. Shaun Huston

Ace of Cakes

TV Show: Tony Bourdain Subtitle: No Reservations Network: The Travel Channel Cast: Tony Bourdain Image: http://images.popmatters.com/tv_art/t/tony-bourdain-no-reservations-050801.jpg Airtime: Mondays, 10pm ET

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List number: 27

Tony Bourdain: No Reservations

Showtime

Don't call him a foodie. His foul disposition will wipe that sadly misguided sentiment off your McDonald's filled face. And he's far from a celebrity chef, since he's actually spent time in a restaurant cooking for a living. No, Anthony Bourdain is the curmudgeon of capons, the last angry man of culturally correct cuisine. After being mindlessly removed from the floundering Food Network, he's found ever increasing fame with his moveable Travel Channel feast. Thanks to his straightforward, cynical air and fearless respect for native fare, he makes anyone pretending to be a taste bud trendsetter into a true culinary charlatan. Bill Gibron

Tony Bourdain

TV Show: Flight of the Conchords Subtitle: Series Premiere US release date: 2007-06-17 Network: HBO Cast: Jemaine Clement, Bret McKenzie, Rhys Darby Image: http://images.popmatters.com/tv_art/f/flight-of-the-conchords.jpg Website: http://www.hbo.com/conchords/ MPAA rating: N/A Trailer: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=6369119583402273077&q=flight+of+the+conchords&total=276&start=0&num=10&so=0&type=search&plindex=0 Airtime: Sundays, 10:30pm ET

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List number: 26

Flight of the Conchords

HBO

A musical sit-com in which the low-key plotlines are driven by catchy folk-pop tunes. Jemaine and Brett are a New Zealand duo living in a tiny New York City apartment and hoping to make it to thebig time. Dimwitted and deadpan, they mostly converse, and sing,about girls. Typical song: "A Kiss Is Not a Contract", delivered to a "bastard girl" who only wants Brett (pronounced Brit in Kiwi) for his body. Without the songs, this one-note show would be funny in a Seinfeld meets Napoleon Dynamite sort of way. But with the songs, it enters new territory, comedy we can hum. Peter Swanson

Flight of the Conchords

TV Show: The Daily Show US release date: 1996-07-22 Network: Comedy Central Cast: John Stewart Image: http://images.popmatters.com/tv_art/d/daily_show_cast_2006.jpg Website: http://www.comedycentral.com/shows/the_daily_show/index.jhtml MPAA rating: N/A Airtime: Weeknights, 11pm

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List number: 25

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

Comedy Central

With the Presidential Primaries in full swing, was any show in this truncated TV season immediately missed more than The Daily Show? In recent times the show has seemed a victim of its own success, emaciated by the loss of Stephen Colbert, Ed Helms, and Steve Carell. But in 2007 it recaptured its former glory, particularly during a stellar summer run that saw some of the show’s best material to date. The barely watchable writer-less edition of the show only further illustrates how hard it is to put together such biting material four times a week, and only makes viewers more appreciative of what The Daily Show accomplishes at its best. Nav Purewal

The Daily Show

TV Show: The Colbert Report US release date: 2005-10-17 Network: Comedy Central Cast: Stephen Colbert Image: http://images.popmatters.com/tv_art/c/colbert-report-2006.jpg Website: http://www.colbertnation.com/ MPAA rating: N/A Airtime: Weeknights, 11:30pm

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List number: 24

The Colbert Report

Comedy Central

Last year's best-of lists asked how The Colbert Report would ever outdo its deliriously bonkers 2006 season, which began in a White House scuffle and ended in, well, guitarmageddon. To their, and our, eternal gratitude, the show's staff managed to out-"Coal-bert" Colbert from its first days back from hiatus. The 2007 Report featured more wordplay (a "Meta-free-phor-all" moderated by U.S. poet laureate Robert Pinsky), more singing (in Korean!), more fisticuffs (a waterfight with Richard Branson), and more acts of hubris (a quixotic run for president). But the show's best work of the year, the WristStrong campaign, brought the considerable generosity of Stephen Colbert the real-life entity to Colbert the character. I am missing this humane side of The Colbert Report this winter, and so can you. Maureen MillerThe Colbert Report

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: 23

Chuck

NBC

One of the best new shows of Fall 2007 was Chuck, about a computer tech working in the "Nerd Herd" at Buy More, a parodic Los Angeles electronics superstore. When Chuck's old college roommate-turned-spy emails the video-encoded contents of the CIA/NSA's joint intelligence files, all the world's biggest secrets get embedded in Chuck's brain. He quickly acquires handlers from each agency. Sarah is the hot blonde from the CIA posing as Chuck's girlfriend. Adam Baldwin is brilliant as Casey, the menacing NSA man keeping an eye on Chuck. Joshua Gomez plays Morgan, Chuck's coworker and super-dorky best friend, perfectly. Most winning of is the burbling chemistry between Zachary Levi and Yvonne Strahovsky, who portray the maybe-faux-couple Chuck and Sarah with just the right notes of awkwardness and melancholy. Each week, Chuck offers a fun new caper and the deepening of a very rewarding cast of characters. When the writers' strike is over, don't let reality TV win the airwaves. In 2008, vote for Chuck. Michael Keefe

Chuck

TV Show: The Wire US release date: 2002-06-02 Network: HBO Cast: Dominic West, John Doman, Frankie Faison, Aidan Gillen, Deirdre Lovejoy, Clarke Peters, Wendell Pierce Image: http://images.popmatters.com/features_art/t/the-wire.jpg Website: http://www.hbo.com/thewire/ MPAA rating: N/A

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List number: 22

The Wire

HBO

Until 2007, Wire co-creator Ed Burns had been something of a silent partner in David Simon's searing (and occasionally sneering) off-screen critiques of epidemic institutional complicity. Season four shifted the focus to the laconic ex-schoolteacher's more solutions-minded version of it on-screen, and the show became richer and sharper for bringing Burns' realpolitik to the fore. A companion to Burns' "Hamsterdam" arc from season three, which introduced viewers to "corner kids" left behind by caretakers trying to save face, Season four's school system arc explained how the kids were made, in more ways than one. Reducing its affecting narrative to a single exchange or performance would be like solving Baltimore's budget crisis. (I'd go with Namond's trip to the steakhouse, or the series of betrayals that destroyed Duquan and Randy.) There's a saying in The Wire, "the game is the game." During season four the show wasn't a show anymore, which made it all the more difficult to not hit "play". Maureen Miller

The Wire

TV Show: Friday Night Lights US release date: 2006-10-03 Network: NBC Cast: Kyle Chandler, Zach Gilford, Gaius Charles, Scott Porter, Minka Kelly, Adrianne Palicki, Jesse Plemons, Aimee Teegarden, Taylor Kitsch, Connie Britton Image: http://images.popmatters.com/tv_art/f/fridaynightlights.jpg Website: http://www.nbc.com/Friday_Night_Lights/ MPAA rating: N/A Trailer: http://www.nbc.com/Friday_Night_Lights/ Airtime: Tuesdays, 8pm ET

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List number: 21

Friday Night Lights

NBC

Amid a television landscape obsessed with the lives of the rich and spoiled, Friday Night Lights is something of a miracle. It's a show about a middle-of-nowhere Texas town and the people living there paycheck to paycheck, yet it's enthralling, big-hearted, frequently hilarious, and thankfully devoid of the clichés about the heartland that crop up whenever Hollywood steps out of its blue state comfort zone. Friday Night Lights treats all of its characters with humanity, even though it understands that not everyone's dreams of a better life are within reach. And while the strategy of football has never been more exciting or easier to follow, the show sees it as more than just a game: it's a dangerous obsession, a temporary solution to the depression of small town routine, and a metaphor for the frustrating unpredictability of life itself. Jack RodgersFriday Night Lights

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