The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

Television Collision: “Cream of the Crop”-TV 2009

Written by: Phoebe Raven, CC2K Staff Writer

ImageAs is customary, I too have taken it upon myself to compile a list of the television shows on the pinnacle of quality this year. Most of these gems I have written about previously in this column, so instead of reiterating my points, I will simply refer you back to my original assessments.
What is especially striking about my list is the fact that half of the contenders are so-called “summer shows”, which don’t extend past twelve episodes. Quality before quantity, they say. And sometimes the biggest accomplishment is knowing when to stop yourself and take a step back.

I have to admit to the fact that I have not watched ALL the television shows that were out there this year, so I cannot claim this list to be exhaustive. (One notable absence is Dexter, which I apologize for sincerely as I am sure it fits onto this list somewhere, I simply haven't gotten around to watch this season.) If you feel I have missed an important show you find merit and value in, please alert me to this and I will dutifully use 2010’s summer lull to catch up on the shows suggested to me. Because that is just how committed I am to television.

Now, without further ado, here is my Top Ten TV Shows 2009 in reverse order (for pure suspense reasons only):

Image10. Castle (ABC)

I wrote about Castle before the second season kicked off, but there are a few points I would like to add to justify its inclusion on this list.
Nathan Fillion is a comedic genius. He has such amazing timing it’s hard not to laugh at how self-deprecating he can be. When he stormed out of his office in complete Browncoat gear (from the Whedon show Firefly, for all you non-Whedonites) in the Halloween, episode I was thrilled, entertained, amused and sad all at the same time. And from the spoilers I have read, the Browncoat gear may not have been the last nod to Fillion’s Whedon past on the show.
At the same time as being hilarious though Nathan Fillion is also able to hit the softer notes in the scenes with his on-screen teenage daughter. Apart from one other father-daughter relationship higher up on this list, this is the kind of dynamic we all wished we had with our parents.

The only two things that don’t convince me about Castle are its sometimes overly stereotypical crime storylines and Stana Katic’s hair. Seriously, it looks like a small animal died on her head. Here’s to hoping they clear that up over the winter break.

9. Hung

This HBO summer show was off to a slow start, but it grew on you the more attention you paid to it (pun intended). It is slated to return next summer and I am excited.
For all my other reasons to place the show at No. 9, read my original column entry here.

Image8. Bones (Fox)

Everyone knows I have long carried a torch for this show and I refuse to quit it. However, at the same time I am also one of its harshest critics. If only the writers of the show could get off their lazy asses and stop using cop-outs all the time, this show could be a lot higher on my list.
It is important to note that I am considering the entire year of 2009 for this list, which means I am looking at the back part of Season 4 and the front half of Season 5 of Bones. And who did not think the brain tumor the writers gave Booth was as lame as any amnesia case on General Hospital? The chemistry between Booth and Bones had become so undeniably strong at the end of Season 4 that the writers saw no other way to avoid “putting them together” than to give the poor man a brain tumor, which led to temporary amnesia afterwards. Come on now, everyone, groan in unison with me!

However, I have to say that the show has picked up its slack in Season 5 so far. Not only are ratings on the rise, but somehow the writers also managed to make B&B’s connection more real and finally explore some deeper layers of their personalities and the dynamic between them.
Though Booth didn’t initially trust his loving feelings for Bones (because some numbskull psychologist [I am looking at you, Sweets!] told him these feelings may have been caused by his tumor and his coma dreams), he has now come to realize that they are very much real, but it just may not be the right time to act upon them.

Sure, the “will they or won’t they” game is getting tiresome and the show runners seem to forget that the problems don’t end once you get together with the person you love, but in the meantime, Bones is keeping me mighty entertained.
Besides, I could never say no to David Boreanaz.

7. House (Fox)

Oh, how the mighty have fallen! This show was my No. 1 last year. A lot has happened in the meantime, and yet somehow nothing has happened at all. The writers of House continue to make the gutsiest calls in serial television (seriously, getting rid of Cameron? SERIOUSLY?), but not all of them turn out to be a success. To my dismay neither Thirteen nor Taub have disappeared yet, but the return of Chase has mollified my anger somewhat.
I continue to feel very ambivalent about Foreman, while I still adore and cherish the hell out of Wilson and Robert Sean Leonard.

As much as I tip my hat to the show for the whole “sending House to rehab and now trying to cope with life sober” spiel, it still cannot make up for the fact that I have a similar complaint against House as I had against Bones up there a second ago: the whole “will they or won’t they” deal is getting mighty old! Finally House is in a place where he would be willing to try and then Cuddy turns around and dates the PI. As much as I enjoyed his character in his first little mini-arc, he does not hold up well in this new storyline. There is too little depth to the character and too little conviction in Cuddy.

I hung on to House for a long time, hoping I would see it return to glory, but it is not to be. I felt the same way once before in my television viewing history. Season 6 of Buffy was so depressing, every second I watched it I asked myself why I was watching it. Thankfully, Season 7 made up for a lot of it. As did the explanations of Joss Whedon why Season 6 had to be this depressing.
Can the writers of House please explain to me why they have decided to extend House’s “Season of Misery” over three seasons? Every scene that doesn’t have Wilson in it, I am asking myself why I am watching the show at all. This does not bode well for House’s outlook to be on my Top Ten list in 2010.

Image6. Californication (Showtime)

I have only recently stumbled upon this Showtime gem, but I inhaled all three seasons within a week. I never had David Duchovny on my radar, I had never watched X Files, and I don’t think he is hot enough to pull off some of the stuff his character Hank Moody gets away with, but that is just my personal opinion.
In general though, this show is as outrageous as it is real. Sure, none of us get to live the crazy, sex-filled, drug-induced and turbulent life that the characters on this show have, and yet the show manages to make a point about society as a whole. What, you didn’t want your favorite show to be brainy? Sorry to disappoint you.

Californication constantly balances itself between screwball comedy and heartfelt drama. There are few scenes I can remember on TV this year that have made me tear up so easily as the honest and open moments between Hank, the father, and Becca, the daughter, who is so wise beyond her years. She has a way of putting his head on straight and with simple words describes dynamics we have all seen at work even in our own lives.

And in between all the “Fucking & Punching” (pun intended), the show actually deals with such themes as redemption, consequences, friendship, love, responsibility and morality. I love how nothing in Moody’s world is black and white and how some of the supposedly “bad” things he does don’t seem so bad at all when you put them in context. In that way the show comes very close to my open-minded, European way of looking at things, people and relationships. It’s a breath of fresh air to see it on an American television show, even if it is only aired on Showtime and not on a network that actually matters.


5. True Blood (HBO)

I know, you expected this to be higher up on my list, but to he honest, the second season was a bit of a hot mess in my opinion. I did not dig the whole “God will be reincarnated” storyline at all and too many weird creatures kept showing up. I found the concept intriguing to make vampires real, simply because they have been part of folklore for so long that it is not such a big leap to think they actually MIGHT exist. But even the shapeshifting Sam was almost too much for me last year and this summer the show went all out on monsters, weird things and Exorcist crap.

Plus, the whole storyline of Sookie and Eric going to Dallas wasn’t half as exciting as it could have been. Godric may have been the most captivating character addition on the show this summer and even the whole “Children of the Light” church plot was intriguing to a degree, but overall True Blood was a lot less sexy and lot more all over the place this time around.
Bill and Sookie’s relationship doesn’t seem to grow above the usual platitudes of “I would do anything for you”, “Don’t leave me, I need you” and “You’re safe with me, I won’t let anything happen to you” either.

Alexander Skarsgard’s hotness makes up for a lot of the lackluster and slow-paced non-action of the second outing of the show, but I sure hope it gets its fangs back for the summer of 2010.

4. Modern Family (ABC)

I have nothing to add to my November column, available here.

3. In Treatment (HBO)

This aired all the way back in April of this year, but not a lot of what came after it has been able to bump this any further down my list.
I repeat my point: all viewers should be In Treatment.

2. Friday Night Lights (DirecTV/NBC)

ImageJust last week I told you to go out and watch this show. If you haven’t done so yet, then let its placement as first runner-up on this list be even more incentive.

1. Mad Men

You saw this one coming, didn’t you? Well, you should have, especially if you have followed my column and read my rave about the show a few weeks back.
The season finale blew me out of the water and I really don’t know how I will go another seven to ten months without a new episode, so it’s best not to think about it.

The mere ambition Matthew Weiner and his team approach this show with is reason enough to have it top any list, whether it covers production design, writing or directing. And even on a list of the best television shows of the decade (an assembly of which I have not taken upon myself), Mad Men would most certainly rank somewhere behind The Sopranos or The Wire and before Battlestar Galactica.
These days, Mad Men simply is the best television on television.