The Top 10 TV Shows of 2009 (A Second Opinion)

By: Aleks Chan

At this point, I’ve given up on Joss Whedon ever getting free reign over his creative works. Yes, lead Eliza Dushku is the show’s weakest link (she has very limited range), but, ah, what a fantastically flawed work of art. DOLLHOUSE may not always work, but when it does, its pure Whedon: deep down, there’s a beautifully complex and dark story of identity.  


You make your jokes about New Jersey, but this unflinching documentary set in Newark will change your tune. Starring an impassioned Mayor Cory Booker as he works to restructure the police force to combat rising crime, it’s the closest series to get to THE WIRE in terms of tragedy, family, and gloomy hope.  


Or the comeback kid. At first Amy Poehler’s OFFICE-wannabe about local government was good, but didn’t have much of an identity of its own. But its second season closed up the giant pit and figured out how it use its star and its cast to hilarious comedic levels. Cohesion achieved.  


If you think there couldn’t be anything more boring than watching people sit around and talk, then you’re dead wrong. Season two of the therapy drama starring the impeccable Gabriel Byrne as a shrink who’s been shrunk packed more raw, emotional humanity into words than every forensics-leaden CBS procedural currently airing.  


Who would think that a kooky spin-off of the long-running DOCTOR WHO  series about a time traveler and his paranormal crime solving team could tell a story as riveting as this? This was an alien invasion that maturely posed the question of whether the needs of the few outweighed the needs of many, and what tragedy can do to the most honorable of people.  

5. GLEE  
If COP ROCK and VIVA LAUGHLIN have proven anything, it’s that musical dramedies could only go down as gloriously failures. And then GLEE happened, mined for every ounce of chintz, kitsch, and spectacle creator Ryan Murphy could find, it works because it is both ridiculous and a marvelous display of craft. It is the most perplexing show on television, and I love it.  

Never have I cried, laughed, and cheered alongside a television show. After a wider-audience pandering sophomore effort, this hearty, kicky drama about a high school football team (and the coach and his wife, played by TV’s greatest couple, Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton) in small-town Dillon, Texas turned out a fantastic third season that let us say goodbye to old favorites (Street! Smash! Lyla!) and wait breathlessly for new ones.  


What started out as a dark, desperate attempt to leave his family a nest egg after his cancer claims him, season two brought on a tricky roundabout: remission. So now chemistry teacher-turned meth dealer Walter White (the incomparable Bryan Cranston) continues in the drug trade with less obvious ambitions. This season was arresting, exploring mortality and morality, and everything in between.

2. BIG LOVE  ?Bless, what a season. Shortened by the strike, this polygamist drama packed a tense, hilarious, tragic, and often poignant third season into 10 episodes of familial bliss. This is a case where more does makes merrier – be it a new wife, new prophet, or illegitimate lovechild, this impeccable ensemble piece makes the grade.   

In Matthew Weiner’s period drama set in the 1960s – so purposefully paced, so delicately curated by its art directors – there isn’t episode that isn’t delicious to consume and almost impossible to explain. Season three, set in 1963, tore everything apart: families, careers, and in one instance, a man’s foot. More importantly, it deftly succeeded in not only showing us the past, but making us feel it too.  


Our Top 10 TV Shows of 2009
Our 2009 TV Year in Review (Part IV)
Our 2009 TV Year in Review (Part III)
Our 2009 TV Year in Review (Part II)
Our 2009 TV Year in Review (Part I)

  • nctodc

    I think GLEE’s a little too high but I wholeheartedly agree with the top 3.

  • Hil

    So you are giving out awards for “potentially” good shows like DOLLHOUSE that never delivered, wasted its first season, and was given every excuse in the book as well as a second chance and still was seriously flawed? Anything from your Honorable Mention list was better in an actual real sense. And where is Dexter?

  • Hil – I have to respectfully disagree. Although Dollhouse had it’s issues in season one, since Epitaph One and from the beginning of season two it hit the ground running. The show showed an amazing level of storytelling this season.

    I do wish Dexter had been on this list though.

  • Mel

    I gotta say, including Dollhouse on a ‘best of’ list just kinda throws the whole list into doubt. Potential? Yeah, maybe. But the potential didn’t make it actually good, it just gave glimpses of what ‘good’ might have been..

  • Josh Emerson

    I can’t agree with this list at all. For one thing, I haven’t seen a good portion of the shows, and the ones I have seen I would’ve left off in favor of others. Parks and Rec is way better than last season, but I still think it is the weakest of NBC’s comedy night shows. 30 Rock, The Office, and Community are all better.

    I’m assuming you haven’t watched Dexter, and that’s why it isn’t on the list.

  • Dave

    I can understand and agree with most of the top five but I really do not understand 6-10 at all. No Dexter? LOST? There is quite a few I could fit in that top ten over shows like P&R? No Curb Your Enthusiasm? Geesh….

  • Nick

    I hate this time of year, especially end-of-decade years. All these random opinion lists drive me crazy. And any list that leaves LOST out of the Top 10 doesn’t have much credibility.

  • David

    I watch most of those, but my top three would have to be

    1. Lost
    2. Battlestar Galactica
    3. True Blood

    I’m sad that they are all honorable mentions.

  • no love for Damages? Chuck? Sons of Anarchy??

  • DB

    The first season of Parks and Rec. was pretty awful, in fact, I felt sorry that Amy Poehler left her wildly successful SNL run for this show. Then, lo and behold, the second season started, and whoa, what a comeback. It is now one of the funniest comedies and definitely appointment TV.

  • TVFan

    Since I haven’t seen 50% of the shows on your list, I’ll simply replace them with 30 Rock, The Office, BSG, The Vampire Diaries, Lost and Dexter! I can do that, right?

  • Aleks

    Regarding Dollhouse: I chose it not because of its potential (which it of course had loads of), but rather because it was ambitious. It swung for the fences and a lot of times it didn’t get too far. But when it did, it hit it out of the park and across the street. I like shows that do this, and it would chose it over a consistently “good” show any day.

  • Wanda

    Breaking Bad and Mad Men are obvious winners for me, but I echo the “Where’s Dexter?” sentiment. I also wouldn’t have minded “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” on that list. Cat mittens. Nuff said.

  • sukienyc

    Sons Of Anarchy was hands down the best written and best acted ensemble on TV this season. It is far better than Glee and Dollhouse and even Mad Men this season. But at least you gave it honorable mention.

  • Thrack

    Good list (excellent choice on Torchwood), but too many of the honorable mentions should have been in the top 10. Sons of Anarchy, BSG, and True Blood could all be top 10 of the entire decade as far as dramas go. Having said that, I need to check out Big Love, FNL, and Breaking Bad…heard good things about all of them. I’ll also echo the “Where’s Dexter?” sentiment and the fact that Dollhouse is a much better show this year than last. Parks & Rec lost me last year, it was awful. Honorable mentions should go to Entourage and Californication.

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  • Armndo

    I personally think, that the 3rd season of Big Love was the worst season of the series, of course Huge and Amazing things happened. But that was not the show it used to be. For me when I first saw the first season it was a show about a man proving that he could love 3 different womens, and all the complications and difficulties it takes to run a family of +10 people.

  • James

    A documentary such as Brick City doesn’t belong in a general television category.

  • After reading these comments my basic sentiment is: rather than criticize just say what your list is. This was never billed as some definitive list.

  • Sheindie

    all I can say is DEXTER #1