Bullz-Eye.com's TV Power Rankings, November 2008 Edition, best TV shows, winter TV

Bullz-Eye's TV Power Rankings: 2008 Edition

TV Home / Entertainment Channel / Bullz-Eye Home

It’s been nine months since the writers’ strike shook up the entertainment industry – forcing some shows to shut down production for the rest of the season and leaving others to scramble for survival – and television still isn’t the same. Many of our favorite shows have yet to return to form (here’s looking at you “Heroes”), while some (like Power Rankings newcomer and new #1, “Mad Men”) have risen to the occasion and helped fill the void. If there’s any pattern to this year’s TV Power Rankings, however, it’s that there is none. While NBC's reign in the top 10 continues, a dozen of the 20 shows below didn't make the cut last year, and nine of those 12 are making their Power Rankings debut ("The Shield," "The Daily Show" and "Family Guy" have popped up in previous editions). Still think the writers’ strike didn’t have a lasting effect? Think again.

For more on your favorite shows from the list, we’ve included links to DVD reviews and series blogs below, as well as several related interviews. Most recently, Will Harris chatted with Oscar Nunez from "The Office," Jonathan Murphy from “Life on Mars,” Bret Harrison from "Reaper" and "Scrubs" creator Bill Lawrence. Finally, don’t miss the list of our favorite shows currently on hiatus and therefore ineligible for the Top 20, as well as our stable of Honorable Mentions.

1
MAD MEN
Previous Rank: NR
Mad MenIn any sane world, Matthew Weiner’s “Mad Men” would not be on any “power ranking,” much less in the #1 spot. This supremely stylish drama about the alcohol-soaked, nicotine-stained, sexual harassment and adultery-friendly lives of early ‘60s advertising execs started out as a low-profile curiosity from a former member of the writing staff of “The Sopranos.” Still, with some help from ecstatic reviews and the Emmys, the show has emerged as first-class appointment TV and a launch pad for at least one potential superstar in Jon Hamm. As the metaphysically secretive Don Draper, Hamm knocks back too many Old Fashioneds while casually invoking the sort of grown-up masculine charisma of classic era film stars Gregory Peck and William Holden. Better yet, Season Two saw the show’s large and very strong cast of supporting characters become even stronger and more layered as the subject matter grew bolder. A semi-surreal late-season left turn with a roving band of wealthy Euro-bohemians was just the tip of the iceberg as rape, nuclear annihilation, religion and the meaning of existence were broached, with vaguely disturbing yet highly entertaining and sexy results. “Mad Men” cannot be pegged, and that’s the best thing about it. – Bob Westal

Season 1 DVD review l Elisabeth Moss interview
2
THE OFFICE
Previous Rank: #2
The OfficeWith more than 70 episodes under its proverbial belt, the U.S. version of “The Office” has left the 14-episode U.K. version in the proverbial dust. It’s not that the U.K. version wasn’t more original or just as brilliant (on both counts, it was) – it’s the consistent, continued excellence of the U.S. version that is most impressive. It started as a remake, with several U.K. storylines/episodes being recycled for the first season. But since its second season, the folks at Dunder-Mifflin have successfully made “The Office” their own. Steve Carrell has turned his role as the always-awkward Michael Scott into a thriving movie career. While it’s true that he anchors the show, Rainn Wilson, John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer bring plenty to the table as part of television’s best ensemble cast. Most series tend to “jump the shark” when the romantic friction is gone, but the show has weathered a successful Jim/Pam relationship by developing a Dwight/Angela/Andy romantic triangle and focusing more on Michael’s quest for companionship. (On that note, Amy Ryan – formerly of “The Wire” – has displayed terrific comedic chops as Michael’s muse this season.) With all due respect to the next show on the list, “The Office” is the best comedy on television.
– John Paulsen
Season 2 DVD review l Season 3 DVD review l Season 4 DVD review l Oscar Nunez interview l Melora Hardin interview
3
30 ROCK
Previous Rank: #6
30 RockDuring its first two seasons, “30 Rock” enjoyed critical buzz, popularity in a crucial ad demographic and Emmy love – everything, in other words, besides across-the-board ratings success. This might be the year that changes, though. Whether it was because of Tina Fey’s Palin-boosted profile, or because viewers have finally come around to the idea that there’s nothing better on Thursdays at 9:30, the Season Three premiere of “30 Rock” boasted the show’s all-time highest ratings. Of course, it still came in third in its time period – and lost roughly nine million viewers of its lead-in from “The Office” – but still, this could be the start of the series’ crossover run. The show’s producers are certainly doing all they can to angle for more eyeballs, lining up guest star spots from Megan Mullally, Oprah Winfrey, Jennifer Aniston, Steve Martin, and the cast of “Night Court” for the first four episodes. If the gambit pays off, though, it’ll be because people respond to the lightning-fast interplay between the talented cast – a collection of improv-ready oddballs who orbit Fey’s persistently beleaguered Liz Lemon. It seems unlikely that Season Three will give us any moments as absurdly inspired as Alec Baldwin pretending to be Tracy Jordan’s mother, father and stepfather in a therapy session, but even at its worst, “30 Rock” is still one of the better comedies on TV. – Jeff Giles
Season 1 DVD review l Season 2 DVD review l Jack McBrayer interview l Tina Fey & Jane Krakowski interview
4
ENTOURAGE
Previous Rank: #10
EntourageWhat, exactly, is “Entourage?” Is it a show about the glitzy Hollywood lifestyle where the main characters make blockbuster movies, earn gobs of money and bag hordes of hotties each week? That certainly seemed to be the series’ primary objective during its first couple of seasons, and some fans want nothing more than for “Entourage” to reconnect with its rock-star roots. They loved watching Vinnie Chase (Adrian Grenier), the show’s sun around which the entourage members orbit, become Tinsel Town’s hottest name by shattering box office records in “Aquaman.” Unfortunately for the “Entourage” purists, the show has evolved and, as it puts the finishing touches on its fifth season, we now see Vince struggling to overcome the disastrous “Medellin,” a pet project that bombed at Cannes and torpedoed the actor’s confidence and career. We see Eric (Kevin Connolly), Vince’s best friend and manager, working to advance his own career by not only trying to repair Vince’s reputation but also expanding his client roster. And we see Vince’s agent Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven) literally beg the headmaster of a private school to admit his son and, in perhaps this season’s most revealing moment, turn down a $10 million offer to become the head of Warner Bros. because he cares more about his agency, his clients and his family. Those “Entourage” purists have a point – this isn’t the same show that debuted on HBO four years ago. But after watching Vince, Eric and Ari struggle, strive and progress over the years, we’d argue that’s a good thing. – Jamey Codding
Entourage Blog l Season 1 DVD review l Season 2 DVD review l Season 3, Part 1 DVD review l Season 3, Part 2 DVD review l Season 4 DVD review
5
SOUTH PARK
Previous Rank: #12
South ParkA sizable portion of the viewing population still refuses to believe it’s anything but fart and dick jokes, but the show that built Comedy Central (which is now in its 12th season, by the way) has always been smarter than your average potty-mouthed cartoon, and since using the feature-length “South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut” as a platform against puritanical obscenity laws, creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have steadily shifted a greater percentage of the show’s focus away from gross-out slapstick and toward social commentary. And while some of this season’s subject matter has been curiously behind the times (Britney Spears? A “Heavy Metal” homage? A “Cloverfield” spoof?), they still hit their targets more often than not – and they still make you laugh at stuff you’d never dream of being funny, like the episode where Cartman purposely infects Kyle with the HIV virus, or the one where Cartman spends 20 minutes making jokes about breast cancer. All told, this won’t go down as “South Park’s” best run, but how many shows are still this funny – and this smart – after a dozen seasons? – JG

Season 1 DVD review l Season 2 DVD review l Season 5 DVD review l Season 6 DVD review l Season 7 DVD review l Season 8 DVD review l Season 9 DVD review l The Hits DVD review l Cult of Cartman DVD review
6
HEROES
Previous Rank: #1
HeroesThe mighty have fallen, that much is true, but despite a disappointing second season (maybe we were a little hasty when we made it our #1 show last year) and even a slightly dodgy beginning to Season Three, we can’t help but feel that the addition of Robert Forster to the ensemble is already beginning to have magical effects. The revelation that Papa Petrelli is alive, well and drawing a line in the sand between heroes and villains is one that’s started to turn things around. And although we’re sad to see Jeph Loeb and Jesse Alexander go, our hope is that Tim Kring will save the day. Yes, we know, we’ve been wrong about this before, but the premise of “Heroes” is just too cool for us to abandon hope. We’re not saying it hasn’t been frustrating at times, but with the return of Malcolm McDowell and Kristen Bell, the addition of intriguing new folks like Daphne the speedster and Usutu the precog, and a studied attempt to let the primary characters finally get back to interacting with each other again, we’re still going to be watching every week. At least for the time being. (C’mon, Tim, please don’t let us down.) – Will Harris

Heroes Blog l Season 1 DVD review l Season 2 DVD review l Jack Coleman interview l Adrian Pasdar & Milo Ventimiglia interview l Ali Larter, Santiago Cabrera & Tim Kring interview
7
THE SHIELD
Previous Rank: NR
The ShieldWhen we left “The Shield” off of the last Power Rankings, it wasn’t for lack of love, respect or appreciation, but rather the simple fact that there wasn’t anything new to talk about. Now that the show is back on the air for its final season, however, and delivering some of the best storytelling in years, there’s plenty to discuss, including Dutch’s latest serial killer obsession and a new villain in Cruz Pezuela. The Mexican city planner might not be as ruthless as Antwon Mitchell or sadistic as Margos Dezerian, but he’s certainly the biggest fish in the dirty, overcrowded pond of Farmington, and his presence has gone a long way in helping to revitalize the series. Great antagonists aside, the main reason “The Shield” has been so unbelievably solid is thanks almost completely to Michael Chiklis and Walton Goggins. Both actors have been delivering award-worthy performances for the past six seasons (even if no one has really taken notice), but this year, they’ve really stepped up their game. Though Shawn Ryan’s top secret finale is being held under lock and key, we can’t imagine things are going to turn out too well for either character, and to be honest, we wouldn’t have it any other way. – Jason Zingale

The Shield Blog l Season 1 DVD review l Season 2 DVD review l Season 3 DVD review l Season 4 DVD review l Season 5 DVD review l Season 6 DVD review
8
DEXTER
Previous Rank: #11
DexterDexter Morgan (played brilliantly by Michael C. Hall) is a blood splatter analyst for the Miami Police Department. He’s also a serial killer. He’s no ordinary serial killer, however. He quenches his thirst for murder by targeting the worst criminals of South Florida, enacting his own brand of vigilante justice to get those bad guys that manage to slip through the cracks. Dexter had a major scare in Season Two when a colleague discovered his deep dark secret, but the wily killer dodged that bullet and emerged relatively unscathed. Season Three brings more romantic bliss with his now-pregnant girlfriend, Rita (Julie Benz), while Jimmy Smits joins the cast as Assistant District Attorney Miguel Prado, who befriends Dexter during the murder investigation of his brother. (Only it was Dexter who accidentally killed him. Oops.) The series continues to fly under the radar on Showtime, and while CBS did run watered-down episodes over the summer, it is best enjoyed in its original, bloody form on pay cable (or DVD). – JP
Season 1 DVD review l Season 2 DVD review l Julie Benz interview
9
TRUE BLOOD
Previous Rank: NR
True BloodAfter he creatively oversaw one of HBO’s signature series, “Six Feet Under,” expectations were understandably high when Alan Ball returned to the cable outlet to unveil his new vampire series based on the novels of Charlaine Harris. Perhaps our expectations were too high, but “True Blood” continues to be programming that we return to week after week, if for no other reason than to see what it might do next. Set in an alternate universe United States where vampires are officially “out of the coffin” (due to the availability of synthetic blood), each week is a deeper exploration of core themes such as intolerance, addiction and family. The show is also one of the most sexually explicit to have been unleashed on an unsuspecting audience in some time, and it isn’t terribly shy with its depictions of violence, either. Its freshman season has been a steady build, but its confidence grows from week to week. If “True Blood” stays on this balanced path, we should be all but guaranteed a whopper of a season finale. – Ross Ruediger
10
CHUCK
Previous Rank: NR
ChuckAfter getting booted from Stanford and wasting far too much of his life as the head of the Nerd Herd at the local Buy More electronics store, Charles Bartowski (Zachary Levi) is finally ready to move on to bigger and better things. If only Big Brother would let him. You see, Chuck’s brain houses all of the U.S. government’s deepest and darkest national security secrets, a gift from former college pal and rogue CIA agent Bryce Larkin (Matthew Bomer), who also happens to be the reason Chuck was kicked out of college. As the Intersect, Chuck’s brainpower is needed to help agents Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strahovski) and John Casey (Adam Baldwin) track down all sorts of baddies, which means any plans he may have to finally graduate, find a legitimate profession and maybe even settle down with a family have to be put on hold indefinitely. That also means the budding romance between Chuck and Sarah is a big, fat no-no, a romance ignited in the show’s first season and further enhanced in this, it’s second. We’ve also thankfully learned more about Chuck’s Buy More coworkers this season, with side stories delving into the lives of Lester, Jeff and best bud Morgan providing many of the show’s biggest laughs and giving the series considerable depth. Gun to our heads, we would’ve preferred to see “Journeyman” get a second season from NBC over “Chuck,” but as evidenced by this ranking, we ain’t complaining. – JC
Season 1 DVD review l Zachary Levi interview
11
HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER
Previous Rank: #19
How I Met Your MotherWe were close. We were so damned close. Creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas had teased us for three years, but we were sure that Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor) had finally found the mother of his kids in Stella Zinman (Sarah Chalke). Of course, as we now know, we were wrong, but it was a hell of a ride getting there. Last season, “How I Met Your Mother” found the largest audience of its history as a result of scoring a pair of guest appearances by the superstar train wreck that is Britney Spears. And, even more impressively, she was really funny. Greeted with these new viewers, the series rose to the challenge of keeping them on, offering us Ted and Stella’s courtship, Robin’s rebound relationships, Marshall looking for work, Lily dealing with her credit crisis, and Barney banging as many babes as possible. We’re still not sure about this new wrinkle that Barney’s pining for Robin, but we trust that Bays and Thomas won’t turn it into a jump-the-shark situation. Or if they do, they’ll do it with a knowing wink and a smile. – WH
Season 1 DVD review l Season 2 DVD review l Season 3 DVD review l Josh Radnor interview
12
THE DAILY SHOW
Previous Rank: NR
The Daily ShowWith an historic election behind us and the extremely waning days of "still President Bush" ahead, there's every reason to have faith that fake anchor Jon Stewart and company will continue working with gusto on a task that no one else on commercial television seems to want – telling the truth or, at least, the funniest portions thereof. Indeed, truth can always use help from skilled comedians and "The Best F*cking News Team" on television has added some diversity of late. Joining ingenious "Senior Black Correspondent" Larry Wilmore and actual heterosexual married couple Samantha Bee and Jason Jones has been Britain's Stan Laurel-esque John Oliver, wry Indian-American Aasif Mandvi, less senior also-black correspondent Wyatt Cenac, and oversized ex-Marine Rob Riggle – all (mostly) comedy godsends. Now, the question is whether the departure of the tragically hilarious Bushies will drain the swamp of funny. It'll be fine. Early signs are good that the show's resident geniuses will be unafraid to mock a vastly less idiotic administration beloved by its studio audience, even at the cost of some booing. In any case, the show's actual favorite target, cable news, will continue to be as stupid as ever. – BW
13
LIFE ON MARS
Previous Rank: NR
Life on MarsIn a season full of American adaptations of British series, none of the contenders were being eyed quite so uncertainly as “Life on Mars.” The action-packed BBC drama was a huge cult favorite, and when word leaked out that the American translation had to be retooled and started over, people started panicking. They needn’t have worried. Jason O’Mara leads the cast as Sam Tyler, a police detective from 2008 who gets hit by a car and, when he wakes up, finds that he’s in 1973. Has he traveled through time? Is he in a coma and all of this is an elaborate delusion? We don’t know what’s going on yet. And with a cast that includes Harvey Keitel, Michael Imperioli and Gretchen Mol, a fantastic soundtrack, and some kick-ass costuming, we’re in no hurry to get these questions answered. Right now, “Life on Mars” is as much of a ‘70s-set procedural as anything, and it’s a blast. – WH
Jonathan Murphy interview
14
FAMILY GUY
Previous Rank: NR
Family GuySeth MacFarlane’s “Family Guy” already did the unthinkable by returning to the airwaves after being cancelled (twice), so it’s no surprise that the show would eventually find its way back on to our Power Rankings after being unjustly booted from the list last year. Though the show has been pretty hit-and-miss so far this season, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. First, only five episodes have actually aired. And second, none of them were the much-anticipated “The Empire Strikes Back” show. There’s still plenty to enjoy about those initial episodes, however, including much-deserved jabs at Dane Cook and the “Boom goes the dynamite” guy, as well as a time-travel subplot that featured a scene where Stewie finds a McCain-Palin button pinned to a Nazi uniform. The best of the bunch, however, is “I Dream of Jesus,” by far one of the funniest episodes the show has ever produced. After hearing The Trashmen’s “Surfin’ Bird” while eating at a 1950s-themed diner, Peter becomes so obsessed with the song that Stewie and Brian must destroy the record in almost a shot-for-shot remake of the infamous “Office Space” copier scene. It proves not only why MacFarlane is a genius when it comes to referencing pop culture in his shows, but that sometimes, repetition can be just as funny. – JZ

Volume 1 DVD review l Volume 2 DVD review l Volume 3 DVD review l Volume 4 DVD review l Volume 6 DVD review l Seth MacFarlane interview
15
THE BIG BANG THEORY
Previous Rank: NR
Big Bang TheoryWatching the adventures of Sheldon (Jim Parsons) and Leonard (Johnny Galecki) during their inaugural season was one of the geekiest but funniest pleasures of the year, but even as hilarious as these two physicists were, we were still shocked at just how brilliantly they came out of the gate for the 2008 – 2009 season. The saga of Penny (Kaley Cuoco) and Leonard ended almost as quickly as it began (though we’re sure it’ll rear its head again), but bringing back Galecki’s longtime “Roseanne” co-star Sara Gilbert as Leonard’s occasional paramour, Leslie Winkle, has done nothing but up the number of laughs per episode. Sheldon is the most loveably clueless character on television, Howard (Simon Helberg) is the most lecherously clueless, and Rajnesh is -- well, actually, Rajnesh makes us sad. We’re really rooting for him to find a girlfriend soon. Otherwise, though, “The Big Bang Theory” runs neck and neck with “How I Met Your Mother” as the funniest show on Monday nights, which is high praise, indeed. – WH

Season 1 DVD review l Johnny Galecki & Jim Parsons interview
16
ELI STONE
Previous Rank: NR
Eli StoneWatching “Eli Stone” requires a leap of faith. So does being Eli Stone. A successful young attorney at a prestigious San Francisco law firm, Eli (Jonny Lee Miller) was once engaged to the boss’s daughter, Taylor Wethersby (Natasha Henstride), a relationship that ended shortly after Eli dove into the cake at the couple’s engagement party. Who would do such a thing? A guy suffering from hallucinations caused by an inoperable brain aneurysm, of course. These aren’t your run-of-the-mill hallucinations, though; Eli interacts with the people in his visions, he talks to his dead father, he even sees George Michael (as himself in Season One) and Katie Holmes (as Grace Fuller in Season Two) put on elaborate song-and-dance routines. Soon, Eli’s hallucinations offer glimpses of the future, which kinda freaks him out. Can you blame him? Eli’s neurologist brother Nathan (Matt Letsher) points to science for an explanation and finds a surgeon willing to try and remove the aneurysm at the end of the first season. Chinese acupuncturist Dr. Chen (James Saito), on the other hand, wonders if a higher power might be behind these delusions of grandeur and suggests Eli may even be a prophet. Far fetched? Absolutely. But there’s something so invigorating about a show that asks you to believe in something bigger than yourself, and requires its cast to make the same leap of faith. In fact, that’s what makes “Eli Stone” so compelling; it’s about faith, not religion. Eli eventually warms to the idea that he’s serving a higher purpose and makes corresponding changes to both his personal and professional lives, taking cases to help “the little guy” instead of continuing to line the pockets of the firm’s corporate clients. If only more lawyers were so inspired. – JC

Season 1 DVD review
17
SONS OF ANARCHY
Previous Rank: NR
Sons of AnarchyIf you took all the best parts of “The Sopranos” and “The Shield” and smashed them into one show, you’d have something that looks a lot like “Sons of Anarchy.” Created by “The Shield” co-writer and executive producer Kurt Sutter, the series is more Shakespearean than anything on television. It’s essentially a retelling of “Hamlet,” but instead of Danish royalty, they’re a California biker gang. There’s Jax (Charlie Hunnam), the second-in-command; his mother, Gemma (Katey Sagal), the very definition of a queen bee; and his step dad Clay (Ron Perlman), the club’s hard-nosed president and best friend of Jax’s deceased father. Heck, there’s even an Ophelia in the group – Wendy (“The Sopranos” alum Drea de Matteo), the drug-addicted mother of Jax’s newborn son. The theme of family and brotherhood is something that was explored in great length in both “The Sopranos” and “The Shield,” and it’s the driving force behind “Sons of Anarchy.” Add to that a supporting cast made up of some of the best tough guy character actors in the business (Tommy Flanagan, Mark Boone Junior and Kim Coates) and a multi-episode guest stint by Jay Karnes and you’re looking at a top nominee for Best New Show of the Season. – JZ
18
REAL TIME with BILL MAHER
Previous Rank: NR
Real Time with Bill MaherIn what has been the most politically charged season in many a decade, for certain types of thinkers, there’s only one person to turn to every Friday night – and that’s, of course, Bill Maher. Here’s a show that gets tighter every season, and Maher himself more assured. At this point, he seems unafraid to say anything, and even though the show masquerades as a political satirization/discussion, there are some of us who tune in to hear him skewer religion week in and out. It’s been a long time coming, and we’ve endured a number a kooks along the way, but Maher is the spokesperson for the American freethinker – the person who is fed up with having Jesus shoved down his throat every time he turns around. Maher doesn’t necessarily advocate the abolition of religion on his show, but he makes a damn good case for repeatedly kicking it in the backside until it’s good and bruised. With Bush and his cronies on the way out, and Obama on the way in, let’s hope Maher’s smart enough to figure out a way to keep things stimulating, despite having less than ripe material to work with. – RR

19
WEEDS
Previous Rank: #8
Weeds“Weeds” has become known for – among other things – putting its characters in preposterously tight squeezes during its season finales, only to find some way out of the corner the next year. At the end of Season Three, however, viewers had to know some big changes were on the way: the finale ended with the entire town on fire, and Nancy Botwin – the suburban dope-dealing widow played to deadpan perfection by Mary-Louise Parker – whizzing off on a Segway after torching her own home. Series creator Jenji Kohan, frustrated with the rut he believed the show had fallen into, delivered those changes this season, sending the Botwin clan off to a town on the Tijuana border and mixing them up with all sorts of illegal goings-on (not to mention the always-welcome Albert Brooks, who appeared as Nancy’s estranged former father-in-law). Heck, Kohan even did away with the theme song – and although these changes were greeted with predictable grumbles and groans from many viewers, this season featured more of the same snappy banter and sharp wit that has buoyed the show all along. It also featured Parker in the buff, which is never a bad thing, right? Right. – JG
Season 1 DVD review l Season 2 DVD review l Season 3 DVD review l Justin Kirk interview
20
TERMINATOR: SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES
Previous Rank: NR
Terminator: the Sarah Connor ChroniclesFans of the “Terminator” movies were justifiably excited about the potential of a television series that picked up where “T2: Judgment Day” left off. At the start of the series, Sarah Connor (Lena Headey) and her son, John (Thomas Dekker), learn that they were only able to delay Judgment Day until 2011, so with the help of a “friendly” terminator (Cameron, played by Summer Glau) sent from the future, the Connors go about the task of saving the world -- again. Of course, there’s a “not-so-friendly” terminator (Garret Dillahunt) hot on their trail. In Season Two, Shirley Mason (AKA the lead singer of Garbage) joined the cast as a T-1001 that has taken over as CEO of a corporation determined to develop the artificial intelligence that eventually leads to Skynet. The series is heavy on action, but it is also compelling in its relationships, specifically the mother-son dynamic between the two Connors, and a budding “romance” between John Connor and Cameron. The series has accomplished a major feat – overcoming the skepticism (of both critics and fans) and being able to translate the “Terminator” story to a serialized format. – JP

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles Blog

OFF THE LIST

Journeyman (#5), Doctor Who (#7), House (#16), Burn Notice (#17), Curb Your Enthusiasm (#18), Torchwood (#20)

RETURNING IN 2009

24 (FOX)
24Another day, another terrorist, another breach of government databases, but with 100 percent more dead people! That’s right, Tony Almeida, seemingly killed in the show’s fifth season, will return for the strike-delayed seventh season as -- wait for it -- the villain, dunt dunt duuuuuuuh. Exactly how they will pull off this miracle is unclear, but this would not be the first time the producers of “24” have asked us to “just go with it,” so go with it we will. As the new season begins, CTU has been disbanded, and Jack Bauer is on trial for his actions during Season Six – not an unreasonable course of action given the circumstances. The rest of the details are cloudy, but we know that there is a new President (and a female one at that), and that Jack spent some time after the events of Season Six to find himself in Africa, only to find himself up to his eyeballs in trouble. That last part will be the focus of the two-hour bridge episode “24: Redemption,” a fitting title if ever there was one. Here’s hoping it proves to be truth in advertising. – David Medsker

Battlestar Galactica (Sci-Fi Channel)
Battlestar GalacticaThe Sci-Fi Channel’s re-imagining of the classic series from the ‘70s returns in January with its final episodes. This version is dark, gritty and realistic – well, as realistic as a show about a human/robot war can be. It features a compelling premise: a rag-tag fleet of humans are trying to evade the Cylons (which they created) while at the same time trying to find Earth, otherwise known as the “13th Colony.” Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell headline a terrific ensemble cast, and the series’ storylines are filled with so many twists and turns that would make even the most forward-thinking viewer’s head spin. This is sci-fi television at its very best. – JP

Breaking Bad (AMC)
Breaking BadHave you ever explained “Breaking Bad” to someone? “The dad from ‘Malcolm in the Middle’ is Walter White, an Albuquerque high school chemistry teacher with a pregnant wife and handicapped teenager at home. One day, White learns that he has terminal lung cancer. Already working two jobs and still struggling to make ends meet, White decides to set up a meth lab with one of his former students in hopes of securing his family’s long-term financial security.” Tell us you’re not intrigued. Fresh off its success with “Mad Men,” AMC debuted “Breaking Bad” last January, and while its initial season was cut short due to the writer’s strike, it was still enough to earn Bryan Cranston an Emmy for his spectacular work as the teacher-turned-trafficker. When the show returns for its sophomore run in March, you can bet we’ll be tuning in.
– JC

Damages (FX)
DamagesAttorney Ellen Parsons is the textbook definition of keeping your friends close and your enemies closer, and with good reason: her boss tried to kill her, and Arthur Frobisher, the defendant her firm just took to the cleaners to the tune of a nine-figure sum, killed her fiancé. Now the Feds want Ellen to be a double agent and put her boss, the duplicitous Patty Hewes, away for life. That’s one hell of a first year out of law school, and the second season of “Damages” looks to pick up right where the blistering season finale left off. Thanks to the show’s non-linear nature, both Ted Danson and Zelko Ivanek will be back as Frobisher (last seen dying from a gunshot wound in the middle of nowhere) and Frobisher’s attorney Ray Fisk (blew his brains out in Patty’s office), respectively. Along for the ride this season are William Hurt as one of Patty’s new clients, and Marcia Gay Harden as Patty’s opposing counsel. Get your hazmat suits ready: it’s going to get dirty. – DM

Flight of the Conchords (HBO)
Flight of the ConchordsThe return of everyone’s favorite New Zealand guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo is a bit of a good news/bad news situation. The good news is that “Flight of the Conchords” was renewed by HBO and will be headlining their Sunday night lineup come January. The bad news is that when the show finishes up its second season, it might be finished for good. With a majority of their original material already used in the show’s freshman year, it’ll be interesting to see how their new songs fare compared to those they’ve been perfecting on stage for nearly a decade. One thing’s for certain: of the new music they have been testing during the course of their U.S. tour, it appears Jemaine may be the one with the lady friend this time around. And what of Murray, who’s now the manager of international superstars the Crazy Dogggz? Will fame go to his head or will he come running home after his 15 minutes of fame are over? – JZ

Friday Night Lights (NBC)
Friday Night LightsEvery year, this show limps a little bit closer to cancellation. It was barely renewed for a second season, and when it did come back, NBC relegated it to the Friday-at-9 graveyard, despite the fact that, due to the writers’ strike, the network had almost no other original content airing. And then they let the season end when the episodes ran out, right in the middle of a crucial storyline involving star running back Brian “Smash” Williams (Gaius Charles). After letting the show twist in the wind for several months, the network cut a cost-sharing deal with DirecTV, under the terms of which a 13-episode third season would air on the satellite provider’s Channel 101 before appearing on NBC in early 2009. If you’ve got DirecTV, and you’re a fan of the show, you already know how things turned out for Smash and the Dillon Panthers last season, and you know about the changes in Tami Taylor’s career, and you know what ultimately ended up happening with Riggins and Lyla, Tyra and Landry, and Matt and Julie. We won’t spoil any of it for the rest of you here, though, because in order for “Friday Night Lights” to come back for a fourth season, the show’s going to need to mount an incredible ratings comeback when it makes it back to NBC in February. – JG

Lost (ABC)
LostThe buzz surrounding Season Four was that the show was “back on track,” but don’t let the cynics fool you – even at its worst, “Lost” is dependably one of the best shows on television, and if we can’t forgive the writers for a little foot-dragging, or a few dead-end detours, then we have bigger problems than Nikki and Paolo. But no matter how you look at it, last season was definitely a return to form for the show; the writers ditched expository buildup in favor of placing viewers in the television equivalent of a luge, placing them at the top of a series of twists, turns, and nail-biting cliffhangers, and then kicking them in the seat of the pants and cackling as they watched us try to hang on ‘til the end. If the recently released Season Five trailer is to be believed, “Lost” will stay at the top of its game when it returns in January, continuing to ping-pong between the present (where the island has just up and freaking disappeared) and the future (where the Oceanic 6 realize they need to, in Kate’s words, “go on vacation”). Odds are still high that the show will fail to stick the landing when it reaches its sad-but-necessary conclusion in a couple of years, but for now, it’s providing a master class in the art of the serialized drama. – JG

Reaper (The CW)
ReaperThis fantasy-action-comedy about a would-be slacker (Bret Harrison) forced into two crappy jobs - one at a big box store and the other as a bounty hunter of escaped souls for the Devil (the brilliant Ray Wise) – started out with one of the funniest pilots of recent years, but was briefly endangered by a string of weak episodes midseason. Happily, creators Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas rallied after the writer’s strike and “Reaper” found its way to a highly entertaining conclusion as the supporting characters (both human and demon) became more complex and involving. Meanwhile, love interest Andi (Missy Peregrym) was finally told about her new boyfriend’s second gig, thereby retiring the need for tiresome secret-identity plots. As questions linger regarding the true nature of our hero’s ties to the suspiciously fatherly Lucifer, there’s plenty of room here for seasons more of good-natured deviltry. – BW

Rescue Me (FX)
Rescue MeTommy Gavin (Denis Leary) and the rest of the boys at Engine 99 return in March with a fifth season consisting of 22 new episodes. The series finished #15 in our 2007 rankings, but in Season Four things got a little too dark when Tommy was this close to throwing his baby nephew into the river at the request of his late brother’s ghost. While Tommy is something of an anti-hero, had he gone through with that morbid task, the show really would have passed the point of no return. As the season wore on, Tommy continued to struggle with his alcoholism and he still can’t seem to decide which woman he wants to be with. Complicating matters is the Season Five arrival of Michael J. Fox as his ex-wife’s latest love interest, which is sure to stir up the usual jealousy (and neurotic antics) from Tommy. Hopefully, the network and the show have a plan to wind the series down appropriately, because it seems like it’s getting to be that time. – JP

Scrubs (ABC)
ScrubsWe know, we know: the show hasn’t been up to snuff recently. First, it’s good, then it isn’t. And then it’s really good again, but then you’re, like, “What the hell happened? Didn’t they used to blend drama with their wacky humor?” They sure did. And you’ll be thrilled to know that, come early 2009, they’ll be doing it again. Bill Lawrence, Zach Braff, and the whole “Scrubs” gang is moving over to ABC and will be going out with a bang -- or maybe not. (Braff is out after this season, but the show could potentially go on without him.) Lawrence has been assuring both critics and fans for months now that the show is returning to what made it such a success in the first place, offering a unique mixture of wit and pathos. We’ve seen the first two episodes of the new season, and given that – hand on Sacred Heart – the second episode is one of the best in the history of the show, we can’t wait to see what else Lawrence and company have in store for us. – WH

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern (Travel Channel)
Bizarre Foods with Andrew ZimmernIt isn’t easy to come up with a fresh spin on a food show, but Andrew Zimmern has done just that, and it’s a concept that we hope will be around for a long time to come. Whether he’s roasting fruit bats over a fire in Samoa, diving into pasta cooked in squid ink, or hosting a Halloween party for fans willing to try tarantula and guinea pig, Zimmern is a delightfully whimsical guide through a world of cuisine that’s quite different from most of what we enjoy in our daily lives. The triumph of the show, perhaps, is that it’s appetizing far more often than it is stomach churning. In the current third season of the series, he’s been spending a little more time on American soil, which has been maybe even more fascinating than previous seasons since it hits so close to home. You can have your Bourdain if need be, but I know where the real meal is being served. – RR

The Colbert Report (Comedy Central)
The Colbert ReportWe guess the fact that the acclaimed nightly half-hour of fake-far-right punditry didn’t make our main list means that we’re now eligible to be nailed on Stephen’s “Whose Not Honoring Me Now?” segment. Nevertheless, while he may have been robbed of Emmys by the likes of Barry Manilow, Tony Bennett and Don Rickles, Stephen T. Colbert, D.F.A., has collected countless rave reviews and Peabodys beyond the wildest dreams of “Papa Bear” Bill O’Reilly, as well as adding a word or two to the English language. Moreover, though it may remain closely linked with “The Daily Show,” “The Colbert Report” has become much its own beast – genetically engineered, no doubt, using Prescott Pharmaceuticals’ Formula 401 (which combines Stephen’s pure man-root essence with xanthan gum and high fructose corn syrup). More whimsical but also more politically pointed (being a fake Republican ironically frees Stephen to be more direct in his political satire), conservatives still seem to love the show as much as liberals, and rightwing guests regularly flock to be nailed by the Colbert. And, even if we’re damning him with faint power rankings, we still honor Stephen nightly with a regular spot on our DVR. – BW

Dirty Sexy Money (ABC)
Dirty Sexy MoneyIt’s in a “Heroes”-style ratings freefall this year, and may very well have been canceled by the time you read this, but that’ll be a shame, because no one has captured the deliciously cheesy thrill of ‘80s primetime soaps this successfully since, well, since there were ‘80s primetime soaps. As is often the case with these sorts of shows, trying to describe the characters and the way they relate to one another – or the things they’ve done to one another – would require several pages and an incredible suspension of disbelief. With this type of show, though, it’s never about the plot so much as it is what the actors do with it, and “Dirty Sexy Money” has an immensely likable cast. Anchored by Peter Krause as the mildly disapproving family lawyer who suspects one or several of his filthy-rich clients are responsible for the death of his father, and topped off by Donald Sutherland (as the family patriarch) and William Baldwin (as the tranny-loving would-be Senator), this series could easily attain “Dynasty”-like levels of supreme silliness, if it’s only given the chance. Come on, America, wouldn’t you rather see pretend rich people horsing around than another reality series? – JG

Fringe (FOX)
ChuckThe team of J.J. Abrams, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman had enough on their collective resumes to sell us on checking out their show before we knew anything about it whatsoever, but within the first minutes of the pilot episode of “Fringe,” we were hooked. Though the “X-Files” comparisons are inevitable, given that one of the main characters is an FBI agent (Anna Torv) who’s exploring crimes involving the fringe sciences, the real star of the show is Dr. Walter Bishop. Described as a cross between Einstein and Dr. Frankenstein, Walter is one of the most fascinating characters to appear on television in recent years, and John Noble’s befuddled performance is Emmy-worthy. The only person who can even come close to keeping Walter on track is his son, Peter (Joshua Jackson), a smart-mouthed punk who has limited tolerance for his often-institutionalized father. “Fringe” is full of twists, turns, dark humor and horrifying effects, but to be fair, there are already so many strange goings-on and unresolved questions that we would’ve included it on our list just to help insure that the show stays on the air long enough to provide us with some answers. – WH

Gary Unmarried (CBS)
Gary UnmarriedJay Mohr isn’t breaking any ground in his new sitcom about the life of a recent divorcée who awkwardly makes his way back into the dating scene while trying to figure out how to coexist with his ex-wife for the sake of their two children. But as Will Harris pointed out in his Fall TV Preview, Mohr is funny and, not surprisingly, so is “Gary Unmarried.” Paula Marshall deserves some of the credit for her role as Gary’s ex-wife Allison; in fact, Mohr and Marshall play so well off one another that sometimes you’d swear they actually were a divorced couple. The show may not have much longevity due to its rather basic premise, but Allison’s engagement to the couple’s former marriage counselor, played by Ed Begley, Jr., shows some promise. Time will tell if it’s enough to give “Gary Unmarried” a second season. – JC

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX)
It's Always Sunny in PhiladelphiaIt’s been described as the politically incorrect version of “Seinfeld” and yet FX’s “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” still isn’t a mainstream hit. Why? Well, for the very reason that the few people who do watch the show tune in: it’s the most inappropriately hilarious half-hour of comedy on television. In the past, Paddy’s Pub owners Charlie, Dennis, Mac, Dee and Frank have done everything from becoming crack addicts in order to get welfare to exploiting a water stain that looks like the Virgin Mary. This season has been the best yet, with Dee’s friend Artemis launching an investigation into who keeps pooping in Charlie and Frank’s bed, to kidnapping a local newspaper critic (an excellent Fisher Stevens) who gives the bar an appropriately negative review. Charlie Day is probably the most consistently funny member of the cast since he always gets to play the wild card, but all five actors are essential to the success of the show. “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” isn’t for everyone, but if you like your comedy edgy and controversial, you won’t find anything else like it on TV. – JZ

Pushing Daisies (ABC)
Pushing DaisiesAfter a strong start, “Pushing Daises” has settled into a groove, which can be both a good thing and a bad thing. The premise is this: a pie maker (Lee Pace) has the ability to bring the dead back to life, but only for a minute or else someone (or something) nearby will die to take its place. If he again touches that person he brought back to life, he or she will die again. The pie maker brought his childhood sweetheart (Anna Friel) back from the dead, and now the two are in love, but cannot touch. The couple uses the pie maker’s unique skills to solve crimes with the help of a grumpy P.I. (Chi McBride). “Pushing Daises” features terrific set design and costumes, and has a quirky brand of humor of its own. But it has pretty much devolved into a weekly procedural format that lacks the compelling season-long storylines that made the first season so much fun. – JP

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