Viewers may complain about the lack of "good shows" on TV, but quality series abound.
One thought: Maybe the complainers don't have cable? Half the shows on this year's Top 10 list are cable programs, three of them on pay-extra premium channels.
Regardless of the platform, it's often a challenge to pick just 10 series for our annual Top 10 list. When there's not room for "The Daily Show" or "Colbert Report" or "Dexter" or "The Office," it's clear there were plenty of excellent shows to watch in 2007. (Whether they'll be back in 2008 depends on the writers' strike and upcoming contract negotiations between the studios and unions representing actors and directors.)
Of course, not all series maintain their quality. Last year's No. 1, "Heroes," fell off the list altogether due to the show's diminished entertainment value and haphazard storytelling in season two. "Friday Night Lights" got bumped to honorable mention due to the Landry-kills-Tyra's-stalker plot, which felt more like a TV story than the more true-to-life, less sensational plots of season one.
Here's our Top 10 list and a follow-up of honorable mentions:
Move over "Sopranos," there's a new master of complex, psychological character drama on the tube. Set at a Madison Avenue ad agency, this period program depicted gender and racial inequality circa 1960 while also developing yearning characters of great depth -- even among the more shallow office staffers.
Whether you loved or hated the cut-to-black ending, it was something viewers had never before seen, just like the series itself. A deft, final look at American consumerism and hypocrisy, HBO's mob drama continued to explore the dark side of its self preservation-minded, dark-hearted characters, particularly in the episode where Tony (James Gandolfini) murdered Christopher (Michael Imperioli).
After watching so many hours of dark TV programs with depressed, conflicted characters, it's a relief to have the bright primary hues of "Pushing Daisies" poking through the largely dour prime-time schedule. Even though "Daisies" is a show with death as a central theme, it's optimistic without being cloying, sweet without being sappy and fairly innocent without forsaking clever dialogue. Boasting fall's best new lineup of stars -- Lee Pace, Anna Friel, Chi McBride, Kristin Chenoweth, Swoosie Kurtz, Ellen Greene -- the casting gods smiled upon these "Daisies."
One husband + three wives = A whole lot of conflict. In its second season, Bill (Bill Paxton) and his wives found themselves ensnared in more turmoil than before, a real treat for fans of this polygamist family drama with heaping doses of comedy. Ironically, aside from a few sex scenes, "Big Love" is certainly the cleanest show on HBO and one of the least profane series on TV.
What began as a "Saturday Night Live" parody has become TV's most winning ensemble comedy. Writer/actress Tina Fey is the show's straight(ish)-woman center, but it's the loons who surround her that make the show soar, particularly Alec Baldwin as blustery but likable network exec Jack Donaghy. Throw in Tracy Morgan, happily spoofing his own run-ins with the law, and Jack McBrayer, who plays Kenneth the wide-eyed page, and you have the makings of a comedy classic.
With over-the-top plot twists (a transsexual sibling!) that stem from the show's origins as a Colombian telenovela, "Ugly Betty" entertains with wild humor, especially the catty commentary between co-workers Marc (Michael Urie) and Amanda (Becki Newton). But there's also some heart to the story: Family struggles (the Suarez clan, the Meades) and Betty (America Ferrera) falling in love with Henry (Christopher Gorham). There's nothing ugly about this beauty.
This genial Canadian sitcom (airing at midnight Sunday-Thursday; 8 and 8:30 p.m. Wednesday) offers the sense of community of "Northern Exposure" or "Gilmore Girls" with inoffensive, oddball humor. Set in a small Canadian farming community, the show emphasizes character comedy and clean, clever dialogue. There's little-to-no serialization, so you can tune in anytime and not feel lost. What a concept!
Fans whined about the start of the season in late '06, and rightfully so, but producers made it up to them in early '07, including the abrupt demise of we-hardly-knew-ye Nikki and Paulo. But the writers saved the best for last with the mind-blowing season-ender that revealed a flashback to be a flash-forward (Jack and Kate made it off the island! But Jack's miserable!). This twist gave the saga renewed momentum as it begins its march toward a 2010 finish.
Sexy and full of schemers, this sumptuous, R-rated "Masterpiece Theatre"-like retelling of the life and (many) loves of King Henry VIII is a feast for the senses. Star Jonathan Rhys Meyers slinkily moves through his scenes like a creature preparing to devour his prey; in this case, the King was after the affections of as many young women as he could bed. A graphic, soapy costume drama, "The Tudors" offers a lot of fun, a little history and standout performances from Meyers and Sam Neill as a scheming cardinal. Season two premieres in late March.
With a cast of actors who could headline their own series, and in many cases have, ABC's Sunday night adult family drama balances melodramatic stories with lighter comedic moments. It's hard to imagine the show without Sally Field as the matriarch (Betty Buckley played the part in the original, unaired pilot), clucking at her children, whose problems range from relationship dysfunction to addiction. Field's Nora may not always be the most likable mother on TV, but her nettling nature is certainly believable.
"Aliens in America" (The CW), "Back to You" (Fox), "Battlestar Galactica" (Sci Fi Channel), "The Big Bang Theory" (CBS), "Boston Legal" (ABC), "The Colbert Report" (Comedy Central), "The Daily Show" (Comedy Central), "Damages" (FX), "Desperate Housewives" (ABC), "Dexter" (Showtime), "Friday Night Lights" (NBC), "The Kill Point" (Spike TV), "Men in Trees" (ABC), "My Name is Earl" (NBC), "The Office" (NBC), "Project Runway" (Bravo), "Scrubs" (NBC), "The Shield" (FX), "This American Life" (Showtime), "Weeds" (Showtime), "Women's Murder Club" (ABC).