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.
9. BRICK CITY
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.
8. PARKS and RECREATION
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.
7. IN TREATMENT
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.
6. TORCHWOOD: CHILDREN OF EARTH
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.
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.
4. FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS
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.
3. BREAKING BAD
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.
1. MAD MEN
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.
Honorable Mentions: 30 ROCK, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, BORED TO DEATH, THE GOOD WIFE, LOST, MODERN FAMILY, THE OFFICE, SONS OF ANARCHY, TRUE BLOOD, UNITED STATES OF TARA.