With new seasons set to start, series set to make their premiere and other shows prepared to resume their programming, we took one last look at 2009’s television offerings and came up with a list of our favorite shows from last year.
Breaking Bad (AMC)
Breaking Bad is the kind of show that stretches the edge of your seat out from wall to wall. It has truly transcended the "show about the old guy who sells meth with the young guy" labels, and become drama that film should envy. Walter and Jesse are Hubert Selby Jr.'s Abbot and Costello, and the stakes raised by their actions are higher than those who taste their product. Cops on their tails, mates on their backs, and money burning their pockets make their otherwise mundane lives inescapably exciting. This show made the simple ringing of a mute's bell a do-or-die game changer. It even made Bob Odenkirk fun again as the most sheisty of lawyers. If Breaking Bad has a genuine fault, it's that it ruins the other 39 weeks of the year when it's not on the air. Der Heisenberg will be back to do more damage unintentionally, and fingernails everywhere will be shorter for it.
Battlestar Galactica (Scifi)
Rarely does a science fiction show transcend its genre and find an audience base from all walks of life; many of whom had never watched a sci-fi series, and may have no interest in ever doing so again. Filmed more like a gritty dramatic series, Battlestar Galactica was more a human drama than a space opera, though it had strong elements of both.
In its final season, the series explored what it is to be human, and humane, both with their human protagonists, and the artificial humans in the Cylon race. With their backs against the wall and the ultimate fate of humanity in their hands, the characters remained flawed and human to the very end. While the final episode left some fans a little disappointed, and some even more confused, none could argue that the series itself was one of the most powerful dramatic explorations of a desperate human race we'd ever seen.
The best day of Lost's life was when its producers found out how it would die. With an end date in sight by the middle of the third season, the writers went full steam ahead toward a finale, and it paid off magnificently in season 5. Between the time travel through the major moments of the island's history to the rise of John Locke, a.k.a. the smoke monster?, as an unexpected leader, even the most bizarre plots started to feel like part of a larger, meaningful whole. As the masters in charge start to emerge-- Widmore vs. Ben, Jacob vs. his twin, Locke vs. everyone?-- and even the most minor characters' backstories get filled in, all we can feel is a sense of anticipation for the conclusion of one of the decade's best epics.
The dance between Dexter Morgan and The Trinity Killer brought the acclaimed Showtime series to all new highs in storytelling. The return of Agent Lundy, Debra’s phenomenal secondary character potential realized after so many years, and an ending that will bury anything else done on television in the near future. This year’s season explored the duality of Dexter’s existence as he tried to find a balance between having a normal family and dealing with the Dark Passenger. In the end Trinity took away that which anchors Morgan to his happy and average life as a father and husband by murdering Rita. The scene prior to this revelation with Trinity on Dexter’s killing table is made all the more creepy and intense when we see Dexter and Rita’s son Harrison sitting in his mother’s blood as the season ends.
Chuck is the funnest show you may have been missing. In many ways the show is like early seasons of Alias, with a main character that has to lead a double life as a spy and average joe. Chuck’s friends can’t know what he does, or how important he is to the intelligence community. It’s this walking of a fine line that makes Chuck so much fun. And then as the writer’s weren’t sure if the show would continue on they threw in some Scott Bakula as Chuck’s father and creator of the intersect that is in our geek hero’s brain. Hopefully now that Chuck has been uploaded with Intersect 2.0, which includes advanced combat training, we won’t see the show follow too closely the route of Alias. If Morgan is brought into the spy world we may lose the underlying charm and heart of the show.
Glee could’ve been a series that banked on the musical abilities of its cast. With each episode featuring the high school glee club performing pop hits from the current billboard charts, and plenty from yesteryear, music fans who appreciate new arrangements to their favorite songs might tune in just for that. In fact, in many respects, the music is giving the series that extra boost that sets it apart from every other show on TV. However what truly makes this show shine, in addition to the talent, is the writing. The dialogue between the characters and the story arcs that we’ve gotten to see play out as these kids, most of whom can’t figure out where they fit in come together in friendship and in music. Tune in for the music, tune in for the humor, or tune in for the story. Whatever the reason for watching the show, it made the fall 2009 season a lot more colorful.
Modern Family (ABC)
All you really need to know about Modern Family is that it’s a really good show. It takes the single camera format that blew up in television comedy this past decade and applies it to the traditional sitcom formula. So you end up with a show that is consistently hilarious, but also takes the time to let you care about this varied family. Only Glee does as much to pull at the heartstrings as Modern Family. it’s taken ABC decades to find a quality and successful comedy to air each week, and not only has the show succeeded at being funny it also may be one of the best half hours of television to be found on the networks.
How I Met Your Mother (CBS)
While some fans are still waiting impatiently for old-Ted to get to the part in the story about how he actually met his kids’ mother, some of us are tuning in because we love the story. Getting to the mother part is inevitable but in the meantime, the series continues to deliver great episodes as we come to see the friendships between Ted, Barney, Marshall, Lilly and Robin develop and change as their lives do. Shining episodes in 2009 include “Murtaugh,” in which the characters consider the things they’re too old to do, “Duel Citizenship,” in which Robin considers becoming a U.S. Citizen and “Last Cigarette Ever,” where we learn that everyone in the group apparently smoked at one point. It’s that last one that I loved the most as it exemplifies what’s so great about the format of the series. As the show is told through the eyes of Ted-the-Dad, many aspects of the story have been altered for his kids’ sake. That aspect of the series gives the show the kind of flexibility that other series don’t have (without relying on time-travel, anyway). It’s for that reason, as well as the great writing and acting, that HIMYM continues to be one of the best shows on TV.