2009 in tv – not that bad aktsually

As we enter December and what passes for the 2009 television season draws to a close I’m struck by how awesome some shows have been this year. I’m struck by a number of other things, as well, but that’s another show…

My top picks of 2009, in no particular order…

Sons of Anarchy (FX)

SoA started off strong and only got better right up until the reaper graphic faded in to close out the season with this week’s 90-minute episode. Dramatic, well-acted, well-scripted and superbly well-written. It reminded me of the early episodes of the Shield – but better. The cast was simply electric week in and week out. Henry Rollins and Adam Arkin were great in their recurring guest roles – the play between them and the core cast seemed effortless. The true mark of a top-notch production team and gifted writers. If you haven’t given this show a chance assuming that “some crap about motorcycles” wouldn’t be great TV a) stop being stupid and b) OnDemand/NetFlix/whatever the first season. You won’t be disappointed.

Californication (SHO)

Great writing, great dialog, great guest stars/cameos (that don’t feel contrived and idiotic ala Entourage) and tits. I just don’t know what to do with someone who doesn’t think that would be worth their time.

Dexter (SHO)

A staple of Showtime’s series line-up many said that it would be unwatchable once they passed the available source material. I’ve not read Lindsay’s novels, but I have to say that while a true adaptation might have been good, this season has proven to me that the show-runners DO have a solid vision and can make some quality TV without it being pre-fabbed 100% of the way. Julie Benz and Jennifer Carpenter both really stood out this season along with the phantabulous John Lithgow as the Trinity killer. He has a way about him when playing this character that was subtle, yet sinister, and frigthening to see. If he’s not in the running for a supporting/guest statue of some kind next year it will be an absolute crime.

Leverage (TNT)

Ocean’s Eleven (not the less good 12 and 13) as a TV series. Yes please? Tim Hutton, Gina Bellman (Coupling/BBC), Christian Kane and the rest of the crew fit together like some insane jigsaw puzzle. The weekly capers are fairly light in subject matter with an eye on excellent storytelling, sharp wit and fun taking the focus rather than suspense, titilation or melodrama.

Psych (USA)

Think The Mentalist, but funny. James Roday and Dulé Hill are hysterical. Even if the show was JUST them, it’d still be a must-watch. Add Timothy Omundson, Maggie Lawson and Corbin Bernsen to the mix and you may have to pause the DVR to avoid going wee-wee in your pants. Filled to the brim with pop culture references and a writing staff that appears unafraid to go off on a crazy tangent on even the slightest possibility that it will be funny you find yourself, week after week, with comedy gold. Much like Californication I can’t stop myself from smiling the entire length of any given episode. It’s just plain good fun.

Honorable mentions…

There were quite a few other shows I enjoyed immensely this year in addition to those above, but for whatever reason I just don’t consider them “best” of anything.

  • Dollhouse – I knew it was going to be a rough season and that it wasn’t going to get past the cancellation monster. Sorry Joss, but it’s another swing and a miss. Epitaph One and Belonging (S2 mid-season break) were excellent, btw.
  • The Mentalist – It’s good, but just good. Its comedic predecessor, Psych, is far superior.
  • Lie to Me – The best intro of any series this year. Solid writing, solid acting and Kelli Williams is wowza!
  • Castle – Nathan Fillion’s first series in a decade to not get canceled and very close to being a top-5 show. Smart writing, wit and a cast of relatively unknown/new faces that have making the big plays week after week. This is another good example of show-runners and creative talents behind the screen that want the viewer to enjoy the show and have no problems poking fun at themselves to make that happen. The halloween episode “Vampire Weekend”, for instance, had a hilarious back and forth poking fun at Nathan and Firefly. hrmmm… maybe this belong higher up?
  • Supernatural – Good writing and production and an irreverent style that I’ve grown quite fond of in the last couple seasons. If it wasn’t for the ridiculous shark-jumping angel storyline…
  • Eureka – Last year this was easily a top-5. This season, despite the pace-quickening presence of Jaime Ray Newman, was not as good as previous.
  • Warehouse 13 – The freshman series started modestly, but picked up steam as it went. I look forward to the new season muchly.
  • Bones – David Boreanaz and Emily Deschanel are a great duo, supported by a fun cast of developed characters. It’s a solid, solid show.

I’m sure it hasn’t escaped anyone’s notice that good writing gets me all hot and bothered. It pleases me that despite some good shows getting canned there are still some bastions of quality around that will embrace talented people. A couple staff writers on Dollhouse were hired on to write for Lie to Me, for example.

Dishonorable mentions…

There were quite a few blunders this season, but nothing that will keep me awake (or let me sleep, as it were) for any length of time. Defying Gravity struggled to find a solid footing, but I really think it was going somewhere. Chuck almost got canceled and doesn’t even start up again until mid-January. CSI lost Grissom and gained me not watching anymore. Larry Fishbourne is great and the rest of the cast is great, I just didn’t care anymore. Grissom’s departure was just the proverbial straw. Reality garbage takes up a good 3rd of the schedule and is almost entirely fecal in origin. Even the fool-proof Big Brother was absolutely ruined this season (BB13) by horrible direction. For whatever reason 2009 was the year of early-90’s remakes with 90210 and Melrose returning to the airwaves like the stench of a thousand porcine corpses rotting in sun.

Let’s hope that 2010 brings with it sweet, sweet cancellation for more reality shows and the smartening up of the audience at large. Yes, I get it, some people (below the Mason-Dixon?) don’t enjoy it when the fancy moving-picture box makes them feel unsmart. TOO. FUCKING. BAD. Some of us enjoy it when shows don’t talk to us like we’re five.

Jaime Ray Newman