Bonus Lists: Best TV Shows of 2009

I will spend all of 2010 writing about the past year or decade
If my top ten movies of 2009 list was late, then what does that make these lists? I’ll try not to think about it, especially since I still have another year end list to go. But, since I’ve spent the past two months writing about the best TV of the decade, I’m not particularly in the mood to spend the next two writing about the best TV of the year. But since my need to list all things chronological is near pathological, I’m still going to post a list. Two, in fact.

Traditionally, I write a top ten list of the best shows of the year, be they drama, comedy, reality, talk show, whatever. But lately, there’s been so many great shows on TV, that limiting it ten was too difficult. My compromise? Two top 10 lists, one for comedy, one for drama, just with less writing than usual. Another new twist for this year: in the past, I ranked shows based on full seasons – only considering shows that had aired a season finale within the year, even if that means taking episodes from the previous year into consideration. It made sense at the time, but had the unfortunate side effect of making much of my Andy TV Awards redundant. Also, it prevented me from talking about new shows. And in 2009, there was a lot of great new shows. So these lists are more traditional, January through December 2009 viewpoints of television (which, admittedly, is a little more difficult since some of these shows have been running episodes for two and a half months since the qualifications for this list end).

But enough of all that. I’ve already written more than I have time for. On with the lists!

Top 10 TV Comedies of 2009
10. The Big Bang Theory
9. Flight of the Conchords
8. Chuck
7. 30 Rock
6. How I Met Your Mother
5. Community
4. Modern Family
3. Better Off Ted
2. Parks and Recreation
1. The Office

This category was remarkably deep last year, as evidenced by a reliable joke-machine with a breakout character like The Big Bang Theory coming in tenth. 30 Rock took a steep drop last year, as it used to be either the first or second comedy on any of my year end lists. This is both representative of the dip in quality in 2009, and the rise of new comedies. How I Met Your Mother remains consistent, but the episodes to end 2009 proved that as much as people like to complain about Ted, the show suffers when he’s not acting as the show’s fulcrum. Speaking of Fulcrum, the one benefit of taking this long to write these lists is that I just finished watching season two of Chuck last week. Critics probably overrate its quality in attempts to keep it on the air, but it’s still plenty of fun and much improved from its early episodes.

Four of the top five shows on this list were new in 2009, which is probably the biggest reason for the two changes to my TV year end list system (separating comedy and drama, judging January-December). When they debuted in September, some overly enthusiastic fans created a rivalry between Community and Modern Family for the title of “best new comedy”. I never saw the value of such debates, as both were enjoyable for different reasons. But I guess I settled on Modern Family, largely because Community had a bit of growing pains to get through, but they’re basically tied. I’m already mourning Better Off Ted (while waiting for its final two episodes to see the light of day). At its peak, it was as gloriously funny as classic 30 Rock or Arrested Development.

The Office finished 2009 as my top ranked comedy, but that ranking owes more to the end of season five and the highlight season six episode (“Niagara”), than it does for how it closed out the year. Instead, its non-spinoff spiritual successor Parks and Recreation finished 2009 as the best comedy on TV. After a bumpy six episode season one (which helped keep it from the top spot here), Parks and Recreation was the most improved show on TV with its second, making many wonder if the loss of some of The Office‘s behind the camera talent to P&R is to blame for the downturn of the former.

Top 10 TV Dramas of 2009
10. Dexter
9. Burn Notice
8. Dollhouse
7. In Treatment
6. Friday Night Lights
5. Big Love
4. Sons of Anarchy
3. Lost
2. Breaking Bad
1. Mad Men

I know there are many fans season four of Dexter, with Michael C Hall continuing his great work as the lead, John Lithgow stealing scenes as the Trinity Killer, and the shocking finale. But for most of it, I couldn’t stop thinking about how much better the show used to be, and focusing on all its flaws. Here’s hoping the game changing finale will bring back some of the urgency that’s been missing. Burn Notice is this category’s Chuck: it isn’t quite a drama (as Chuck isn’t quite a comedy), but it fits best here. Maybe next year I’ll do an extra list for action shows.

At times, Dollhouse wasn’t worth being on this list. Other times, it was top five worthy (and if the last three episodes hadn’t fallen in 2010, it may have moved up the list). At its best, this was the most exciting and fascinating show on television, but I don’t mourn its loss: the way the show crammed about four seasons worth of shows into half a season is what made it unlike any other show I’ve ever seen. The second season of In Treatment was probably as good as the first (better in some ways), and it only ranks seventh, symbolizing what a great year it was (and probably why I made two lists: comedy was deeper this year, but drama was top heavy).

It’s hard to believe Friday Night Lights fell outside of the top five. Really, 6-4 are all basically tied, but FNL was the toughest to judge since it was the only one that mixed seasons (the final two episodes of season three with the first seven of season four). The Big Love that makes this list is season three from early 2009 (the series’ best), not season four from early 2010 (the series’ worst).

Two promising freshman series from 2008 made THE LEAP in 2009 to become two of the very best shows on TV: Sons of Anarchy and Breaking Bad. If you didn’t check them out when I told you to last year, then you’re missing out. I know some people didn’t dig the time travel season of Lost, but I LOVED it. Just trying to keep up their logic was fun for me.

Mad Men takes it spot at the top as the best show on TV, which seems obvious at first glance, but there’s actually very little separating it and Breaking Bad in terms of quality. Mad Men didn’t clinch the top spot until its action-packed, getting-the-gang-back-together finale. The best two shows on TV are on AMC; so if you haven’t yet, you better find out what channel that is on your dial (you know… if you somehow still have dials on your TV).

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2 thoughts on “Bonus Lists: Best TV Shows of 2009

  1. I still haven’t finished Dollhouse, it just never really spoke to me. But, it is on my PVR. I think SoA and Breaking Bad are just to dark for me. Am eagerly awaiting season 4 of FNL!

  2. Pingback: The Fifth Annual Andy TV Awards « Critically Speaking

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