I’ve acquiesced to the fact that this is more “tv I loved in 2009” than actually “the best tv of 2009”. But what critic’s list isn’t? You never read, “I hated this show, but damn was it well done!” We all show a preference for what we enjoy.
So, this remains what I enjoy and believe to be well done in 2009. and the title stands.
Which is not to say there wasn’t other good tv on last year. How I Met Your Mother and The Office pretty consistently made me laugh. Chuck was amusing. The one episode of Castle I watched was fun (and not entirely because Nathan Fillion dressed up as Malcolm Reynolds). But comedies didn’t incite the same level of fascination as other shows this year. I’m not sure what I laughed at and can’t recall just what I enjoyed and I don’t think I was especially excited when new episodes appeared on my dvr.
That being said, the 2009 list has its own bit of levity and charm…
10. Leverage. In any show, a caper episode is fun if done well. Leverage manages to be a series of witty escapades, sometimes serious and more often blithe. The consistent strength is the odd characters. Their unique skills combined with their bumbling interplay and genuine affection for one another make each episode a delight, even when the gambits fall short.
9. NCIS. I read an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal about what an anomaly NCIS is in the current tv landscape.
“NCIS” is proof that even if the economics of the business are in upheaval, large swathes of the audience still want traditional storytelling, righteous heroes, and reality that’s not offensively gritty.
If you know me at all you know I like the emotionally tangled and complex without being offensively gritty. NCIS manages just hints of that angst mingled with an insistent frivolity all within the framework of a nice tidy procedural.
The other strength of NCIS is that it’s consistent. The tone, the humor, the tension that pays off in a happy ending; there are no weak episodes or moments that don’t really work. Plus, small bonus points for Dark Angel alum Michael Weatherly.
And I do like righteous heroes but we all knew that 🙂
8. Merlin. The Arthurian legend if they were all in their twenties. How has this not been done before? And yet, it’s not embroiled in the lowest common denominator of teen angst. This is Arthur as a young man, still under the rule of his father, Uther Pendragon. A prat being groomed to be king alongside Merlin learning to wield his magic while keeping it secret; Guinevere as Morgan le Fay’s lady in waiting and Morgan having the opportunity to play something other than the villain. The friendship between the four of them is interesting and fun to watch.
Plus, bonus points for Buffy alum Anthony Stewart Head as Uther.
7. Lost. I liked the new dynamics Lost delved into this past season. Time travel so often complicates things beyond measure, but as mired as Lost is in its own mythology, somehow when they were jumping through time it actually made more sense then before. which is remarkable enough. There were moments in several episodes I didn’t care much about, entire sub-plots that were uninteresting however necessary they might be. But Daniel Faraday was wonderful. and I always like the delightfully complicated Juliet.
6. White Collar. If charm were enough to make the list White Collar would be at the top. But it’s not. The show still needs to be something more than a lighthearted adventure that utilizes the subterfuge and insight of a blindingly charming con man beside the dry competence of his partner. And yet, it does that so well it’s almost enough.
5. Legend of the Seeker. This one, admittedly, is a guilty pleasure. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t good. It’s fun to watch, the colors are beautiful, the characters are solid and growing more complex and interesting, the action sequences are exciting, the story moves quickly without leaving questions unanswered or quests unfulfilled.
I like the latter because not only was there closure at the end of the season but each episode feels like it’s packed with so much story and so many things happening and moving and changing. It never feels stale, never has a weak episode meant to move players before something actually happens. Both Merlin and Legend of the Seeker may only be good but their strength lies in being consistently good.
4. Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. This almost didn’t make the list this year because it got lost in a dreadful storyline. It seemed as if after having propelled John into a truly interesting character who was wrestling with who he was expected to become under the constraint of expectations from Sarah and Derek they somehow decided Sarah getting lost in a meaningless storyline would be better. It wasn’t. And then… they went back to John claiming his power in Today Is The Day part 2. They told pieces of Derek’s story and let him be dark and fascinating. and then they brilliantly changed the game just when it was all over.
3. Dollhouse. “Dollhouse failed better than most shows succeed.” according to Time. While history will mark it as a failure, a casualty of low ratings, a bad time slot and tussles between the creator and studio/network of what the show should be, Dollhouse certainly had moments of brilliance mostly because the characters were so compelling. The twisted layers of love and betrayal, unexpected alliances and poignant loss all laced with eccentric humor. Dollhouse always questioned our humanity and identity and whether the soul was stronger than the mind.
2. Supernatural. – I admit I am not a fan of season 5, despite the 2 phenomenal opening moments:
Season 5 The Road So Far (who wouldn’t love Thunderstruck played over someone getting struck by lightning!)
Free to Be You and Me
And while the end of season 4 had its various strengths and weaknesses, Supernatural would make the list even if it only aired one episode in 2009: On the Head of a Pin. This episode was so brilliantly tangled, so layered in revulsion, in contempt, in characters breaking one another with warring torments, in the confession of salvation and the burden that imposes but best of all, in a moment of pleading as strength crumbled under the demand for willing self-destruction.
Dean: You ask me to open that door and walk through it you will not like what walks back out.
Castiel: For what it’s worth, I would give anything not to have you do this.
(oh, bonus point for Christopher Heyerdahl even though he’s only ever a guest star. he’s very good.)
1. Battlestar Galactica. If the theme of this year is tangled emotions than Battlestar has to be at the top of the list. The revelations of the final season rocked the world they’d so carefully built, turning them on themselves and each other, questioning what “enemy” truly means, breaking the world apart and giving it new life. And yet, this was the conclusion, perhaps where we all end up, knowing exactly who we are and where we belong.