The 20 Best TV Shows of 2005

Some 2005 TV tidbits. Of the 20 shows selected, nearly half are comedies. Hour long dramas make up the next biggest batch with seven. The Big Three networks — ABC, CBS and NBC — account for only four entries total, while Fox has more than double the number (if you include the FX entries). While the broadcasters can boast a majority of the shows (11), cable is more than holding its own with a noticeable nine. Rupert Murdoch’s media empire is the overall winner, with four entries in the top 10 while reality TV continues to be the biggest loser (only two entries, and none in the top spots). Comedy Central owns the talk show title, placing both of its seminal news satires on the list, while a quartet of excellent animated fare proves that, unlike its cinematic counterpart, the hand drawn medium is far from dead on the small screen. Overall, not a bad year for an entertainment entity long written off as a cultural wasteland. There’s some definitive new growth among the arid averageness.

20

Aqua Teen Hunger Force
(Cartoon Network)

Reveling in its nutty own internal logic, Aqua Teen Hunger Force is one of Adult Swim’s most accomplished 15-minute blasts of nonsense. In case you’re just tuning in, the show is about living, breathing, swearing fast-food products who also happen to be pretty much the worst superheroes ever. Even Frylock, the straight man of the group, made a recent verbal reference to dropping all pretense of solving crimes (which, if you go way back, was sort of the show’s original premise). Can’t wait for the movie!
Jesse Hassenger PopMatters review Amazon

19

Rescue Me
(FX)

There is a sense with certain TV shows that what you’re watching is the realized aesthetic vision of a single creator (or perhaps a small team), rather than a committee. NYPD Blue had that, as did The X-Files, and everything Joss Whedon and J.J. Abrams have put on the screen. Rescue Me is a sleeper show in this vein, with a peculiar tragicomic tone all its own. Denis Leary writes, produces and stars as Tommy Gavin, a New York City firefighter literally haunted by the events of 9/11 — you couldn’t find a more entertaining mess on television this year.
Glenn McDonald PopMatters review Amazon

18

Grey’s Anatomy
(ABC)

Scheduled immediately after Desperate Housewives, this ‘Sex In The Hospital’ soap is riddled with faults, and yet remains consistently fun and engaging. Absurdly, Grey’s Anatomy‘s biggest fault is its lead character and narrator, Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo), who manages to be both annoying and bland at the same time. So all credit to the writers and the supporting cast of intern peers and senior doctors — of whom Dr. Miranda Bailey (Chandra Wilson) is the prize. Of course, Grey’s Anatomy isn’t House, but then what is.
Roger Holland PopMatters review Amazon

17

The Colbert Report
(Comedy Central)

A spinoff of sorts from The Daily Show‘s alpha correspondent, The Colbert Report is deep-cover satire of basic cable’s news-and-commentary cult of personality. Just like the personalities he satirizes, Stephen Colbert’s willfully under-informed host wants to frame the debate and set the agenda. The show is attempting something very interesting — rather than react with gags to today’s headlines, it wants to parody the way in which media itself creates “news.” Only the agenda this time… is laughs! Bitter, rueful despairing laughs, yes, but still. The Colbert Report is still finding its rhythm, but in terms of potential and ambition, this is one to watch.
Glenn McDonald PopMatters review

16

Family Guy
(Fox)

I’ve read lately that Kevin Smith, the South Park duo, and almost everyone who works on The Simpsons absolutely loathe Family Guy. Well, fuck them if they can’t take a joke. This is the most consistently funny show on TV today, and Lois Griffin is infinitely hotter than Marge or Cartman’s mom. That’s all. End of message.
Roger Holland PopMatters review Amazon

15

Extras
(HBO)

Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Stiller, Kate Winslet, Patrick Stewart — these are just a few of the big names you’ll see in the premier season of Extras, the most gut-busting BBC comedy to come from the other side of the pond since The Office. Like said show, it was also created by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, and stars Gervais as Andy Miller — a guy who has given up his day job to pursue his dream of becoming an actor. Andy spends his days hanging around movie sets with his best friend Maggie (Ashley Jensen) in dire pursuit of a speaking role, while Maggie pursues a boyfriend among the casts and crews. Their ambitions often lead the two friends into awkward situations which, like The Office, frequently fuel the hilarity.
Jennifer Makowsky PopMatters review Amazon

14

Everybody Hates Chris
(UPN)

Garnering comparisons to The Wonder Years and The Cosby Show, this season has proved that everyone indeed loves Chris. Toted as one of those rarely successful nostalgic shows that mix a healthy dose of comedy, childhood angst, and familial warmth, Everybody Hates Chris is the autobiographical account of “the funniest man in America” Chris Rock’s teenage years in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn during the 1980s. Rock’s brainchild is a brilliant, complex amalgamation of race, class, and coming of age, fitted into a 30-minute sitcom timeslot. Each episode, Chris (played by the delightfully talented Tyler James Williams) has to somehow make right the “Herculean” tasks that plague him: from his responsibilities at home as the eldest child (trying to keep his siblings quiet while his father sleeps, not eating the big piece of chicken, keeping his sister out of trouble) to negotiating his survival in Bed-Stuy, or as he calls it, “the center of the crack epidemic”. It’s no wonder that anyone who enjoys intelligent comedy probably loves Chris.
Courtney Young PopMatters review Amazon

13

Degrassi: The Next Generation
(Noggin)

Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel have been spawning cult hits with nigh-exclusively ‘tween audiences for years; Canada’s Degrassi one-ups them all by keeping it real. Well, sort of; this epic soap covering the lives, loves, and sexually transmitted diseases of over a dozen growing teenagers indulges in its share of melodrama and hyperbole. But even when it borders on silliness, Degrassi wins us over by refusing to offer easy answers or happy endings.
Jesse Hassenger PopMatters review Amazon

12

The Amazing Race
(CBS)

2005 was a great year for fans of the The Amazing Race. First of all, Season Seven allowed all right thinking people to travel vicariously to all kinds of really cool exotic places and dream of murdering Reality TV Slebs Rob and Amber in each and every one of them. Next, The Amazing Race Family Edition took us on a non-stop tour of North America and introduced us to the fun and wacky Linz family, the Bransens (three cool girls who wanted the Linz boys baaaad, and their drip of a father who wouldn’t have lasted ninety seconds with Megan Linz), and the inutterable awful Weaver family. If you want to learn more about the Weavers, look up the words “cant” and “hypocrisy” in your dictionary. They’ll have their own special sections. If you want to see more of Rob and Amber, give it a couple of months and they’ll no doubt be hawking a sex tape on the Internet. If you want to see the best reality show on TV, keep your eyes peeled for the next season of The Amazing Race.
Roger Holland PopMatters review Amazon

11

Extreme Makeover: Home Edition
(ABC)

Shamelessly manipulative, over the top in both its premise and its presentation, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition traffics in something that there is just too little of in today’s modern media: heart. Not just the kind of emotion that comes from a fluffy human interest story, or that’s derived from granting ‘wishes’, but from the spirit of goodwill that pours out of a desire to help — and a new 8,000 square foot mansion. It’s the cynical thing to mock and ridicule this show and its sentiments, but there is no faking that weekly reaction when the families watch their former abode being destroyed. Those looks of astonishment are the myriad of personal memories slowly dissipating… and dying. It’s what makes the third act reveal so thrilling (and keeps the tear ducts flowing and flowing). For these hopeless, helpless people host Ty Pennington and his creative crew represent a reprieve from Fate’s cruel confines. This real estate enrichment may not be buying happiness, but it seems to be temporarily easing the pain — and there’s nothing wrong with that now, is there.
Bill Gibron PopMatters review Amazon

10

The Shield
(Fox)

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

9

24
(Fox)

“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

8

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

7

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

6

nip/tuck
(FX)

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

5

Veronica Mars
(UPN)

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

4

The Simpsons
(Fox)

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

3

House, MD
(Fox)

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

2

Lost
(ABC)

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

1

Arrested Development
(Fox)

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

PopMatters