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Top TV Picks of 2007

As it's nearly the end of the calendar year (only a few more days to go, in fact), I figured now was as good a time as any to look back at some of the shows that that have entertained and inspired me over the past year.

It's been a crazy year, between the thrilling highs of some new scripted programming (like Pushing Daisies, Chuck, and Dirty Sexy Money), some near-misses (one-hour Office installments), and the now super-extended WGA strike wreaking havoc with network schedules. So, what were the favorite series in the Televisionary household? Which left me wanting more... and which ones made me eager to change the channel? Find out below.

Best Reality Series:

The Amazing Race
Project Runway

Top Chef


Despite nearly not making it onto CBS' fall schedule at all, The Amazing Race has proven itself still consistently one of the very best reality television series around, offering a race around the world that tests the strength of its relationships as it pushes its teams to complete bizarre and often soul-crushing challenges (like Lorena trying to milk that camel). Plus, you never feel dirty after watching it, like you might after tuning in to, say, Rock of Love with Bret Michaels or A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila. Host Phil Keoghan oversees the proceedings with a bemused gaze and oodles of charm. This series still has its cachet, even after such travesties as the Family Edition; instead, it keeps on chugging along without altering its formula drastically, a boon in today's trigger-happy revampings.

Bravo's Project Runway wears its sleek style right on its sleeve. Unlike fellow style competition series like Top Design and Shear Genius, PR always proves enlightening, entertaining, and laden with more tension than some procedural dramas. Plus, it has the classiest hosts in the business with Heidi Klum and mentor Tim Gunn. Season Four proved a little heavy on the "characters" early on but is proving to be the perfect antidote to these scripted programming-free winter nights.

Finally, there's Top Chef, my absolute reality obsession. Given that I am an unrepentant foodie, I can't get enough of this culinary competition series. Detractors say that, unlike PR, you can't really get a sense of the finished product (hard to taste the food through the television set, I guess), but for me, that's not even on my radar. Instead, I'm compelled by the cuisine know-how, the flavor profiles, and the stunning presentation that these chefs literally bring to the table. Throw in judges Tom Colicchio, Gail Simmons, Anthony Bourdain, Ted Allen, and a host of celebrity chef guests and you have the perfect recipe for a reality TV sensation. Hell, even Padma's not driving me as crazy as she used to...

Best British Imports:

Doctor Who
Life on Mars

Extras


Even after weathering the departure of companion Rose Tyler (Billie Piper), Doctor Who has managed to be a consistently great sci-fi drama of the highest order. Series lead David Tennant (the best Doctor in my mind since Tom Baker) continues to astound with his charisma and elasticity and new companion Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman) has proven herself a worthy foil for the immortal traveler. Season Three offered up another round of time and space jaunts, worthy adversaries (John Simm as The Master, anyone?), and one of the single most terrifying hours of television ever with Steven Moffat-scripted "Blink," which only featured its series lead in about two minutes total.

After far too long of a lag between the first and second seasons, Life on Mars has finally returned to the States with a fantastic second season that finds Sam Tyler (John Simm) attempting to regain consciousness in 2006 while pursuing baddies as a Manchester copper in 1973. This series features crackling writing, two of the very best supporting characters on TV in DCI Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister) and Annie Cartwright (Liz White), and an emotional, intelligent thrill ride of a story that makes you secretly hope Sam never has to leave 1973.

Over the course of its two seasons (and its feature-sized awe-inspiring series finale, which aired on Sunday), Extras has proven to be a witty and intelligent mediation on the nature of fame, celebrity, and identity in our media-obsessed culture. It's alternately painfully funny and funnily painful and proven itself a worthy successor to Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's original The Office. This is touching, hysterical, scathing comedy of the highest order.

Biggest Letdown from a Once Great Series:

Gilmore Girls

Yes, it's dead and dusted now but the sour taste of Season Seven of Gilmore Girls still lingers on in my mouth. After a lackluster sixth season that saw the departure of showrunner/creator Amy Sherman-Palladino, Season Seven was meant to be about new beginnings... for a series that had most likely already seen its best days past. Gilmore Girls was once my favorite series so I feel especially strongly about the sad, pathetic way it eked out its final days under the guidance of David Rosenthal. At least I have my DVD box sets.

Best Cancelled Series:

Veronica Mars

Like there was really any doubt in your minds about what this category would hold. Not since the untimely demise last year of Arrested Development has there been a series that I've missed as much as Veronica Mars. Over the course of three seasons (and two networks), Veronica and the gang in Neptune have solved crimes, battled villains, found themselves and explored the noir-tinged underbelly of a seaside town in one of the very best depictions of class warfare ever seen on television. You might be gone, Veronica, but you'll never be forgotten.

Best US Comedies:


The Office
30 Rock

Flight of the Conchords


In a category that continues to shrink by the day, there are less and less comedies airing on television these days as networks devote less time to costly single-camera comedies and staid multi-camera ones and more time to reality fluff that can be made on the cheap. Still, there are a few bright spots of comedy cheer to celebrate, including the above three entries to the funny hall of fame.

The Office may have made a few missteps this year--scheduling four painfully unfunny one-hour installments in a row may not have been the best way to kick off Season Four and having Michael kidnap a pizza delivery boy may have been a shark-jumping moment--but there are still moments of absolute genius at work here, like Pam's dazzled face when Jim finally asks her out in "The Job." Or, hell, the sheer existence of Karen Filippelli (Rashida Jones), who imbued the series' third season with a spark and glitter that the Scranton branch needed, especially in light of Jim and Pam's awkward third season dynamic.

While The Office has flagged a little in the groundbreaking comedy category, fellow NBC comedy 30 Rock has been only too willing to pick up the mantle, offering surreal subplots about insane movie stars, network pages, and neurotic scribes and execs at the Sheinhardt Wig Company's subsidiary. More than any other series to date (other than the dear departed Arrested Development) has a series offered more per-episode laughs, gags, and TiVo-friendly rewind moments. This is jaw-dropping, ground-breaking, intelligent comedy at its very best, reinventing Alec Baldwin's career and giving the world the divine abilities of actor/writer/executive producer Tina Fey.

I knew from the opening moments of HBO's little-engine-that-could comedy Flight of the Conchords that I was absolutely hooked. I'd seen Bret and Jemaine before live, so I knew the songs would be alternately hilarious, bizarre, and touching, so I knew they could pull off the tragically unhip music videos that pepper this indie comedy, but could they carry their own weekly scripted series? Hell, yeah. The boys from New Zealand gave HBO an indie energy that they've been missing since the days before Entourage became the butt of their own jokes and their trademark blend of witty lyrics, inane patter, and indecipherable accents have made them instantly welcome in this household.

Best US Dramas:

Lost
Damages

Battlestar Galactica


Say what you want about those first six episodes of Season Three, Lost is still the most engaging, mind-blowing thrill ride on television today, offering up a jaw-dropping season finale that promises to reinvent the series that once reinvented the network drama. Through three seasons of plot twists, slow burn reveals, and WTF moments (black smoke monster, Jacob, death after death after death), the series pulls the ultimate bait and switch and reveals that some of these beloved character have in fact made it off the island, after all. Brilliant, unconventional, and gripping.

FX's serpentine thriller Damages definitely deserves a place among 2007's pantheon of exceptional TV dramas, offering up a brutal, labyrinthine plot about corruption, truth, and vengeance played out by some of the industry's most glittering stars. Glenn Close and Ted Danson may have been the glittering marquee names here but Rose Byrne, Tate Donovan, Zeljko Ivanek, and Anastasia Griffith burned just as brightly. This is stunning, remarkable work that had this jaded viewer on the edge of his seat each and every installment.

Sci Fi's Battlestar Galactica has consistently remained one of the most politically-minded television series around, couching its rhetoric in a taut space opera about the doomed souls of humanity floating in space, attempting to fend off the end of its civilization at the hands of its own creations. The second half of Season Three put the humans on the offensive, but they managed to surprise and astound viewers with the death and return of Kara Thrace (Katee Sackhoff), Gaius Baltar's trial of the century and martyrdom, and the stunning revelation that the final four Cylons have been hiding in plain sight all along. All this and that incredible montage of "All Along the Watchtower" make me dizzy with anticipation for the series' final season, whenever we might finally get to see it.

Best New Fall Series:

Pushing Daisies
Chuck

Dirty Sexy Money

While many bemoaned this season's new crop of series (Cavemen, par example), three series did manage to connect with me in meaningful and beautiful ways. It's a surprise to me as much to you that all three managed to deftly blend the boundaries between genres to create a category of super dramedies that defy most pigeonhole descriptions.

ABC's Pushing Daisies, from creator Bryan Fuller, pulled off the impossible and created a candy-colored palette for an alternate reality in which the Pie Maker (Lee Pace) is granted the ability to bring the dead back to life in a "forensic fairy tale" that is pure and utter magic. Credit the snappy banter, the adorable cast in Pace, Anna Friel, Chi McBride, Kristin Chenoweth, Swoosie Kurtz, and Ellen Greene, and the series' quirky blend of 1950s fashion, mysteries of the week, and the best unrequited love story ever to hit the small screen. Cut yourself a slice of pie and prepare to watch the most original thing on television in a long, long time.

While Pushing Daisies gets the critical adulation, NBC's Chuck has also proven to be a favorite in the Televisionary home, offering an enticing blend of action, adventure, comedy, romance, and 9-5 servitude. Zachary Levi is a compelling lead as a slacker who downloads the entire US intelligence database in his head and winds up getting protected by warring CIA and NSA agents while working as a Nerd Herd employee at a Los Angeles superstore. Funny, touching, and ultimately just plain fun.

Finally, there's ABC's Dirty Sexy Money, a primetime soap for people who want their soaps to be caustically funny, unrepentantly tongue-in-cheek, and gripping. The story of the billionaire Darling clan and their oft put-upon family lawyer Nick Charles (Peter Krause), Dirty Sexy Money offers soap hysterics along with its hilarious dialogue.

And there we have it. A sampling of some of my favorites from 2007. As the year rapidly swings to a close, I'm curious to see what your favorite (and least favorite) series were, which shows you can't get enough of, and which ones you're happy to see the back of now.

Comments

The CineManiac said…
Even though I know you disagree How I Met Your Mother is right up there with The Office and 30 Rock in the CineManiac household. We've watched the first season 3 times in the 2.5 years it's been on and already seen most of the 2nd season a second time. Each week I Tivo the reruns as I still love to watch it, even when it's not new.
Unknown said…
How could you forget the now-canceled The 4400 and The Dead Zone? I loved Veronica Mars, too, but season 3 was tortured by the network demanding the elimination of a season-long arc.

I think Nip/Tuck deserves a mention as well. The move to LA has re-invigorated a series that was spiraling into neglect. I still wish they'd shed some of the characters that've been pulled from FL (Julia, Matt, ...), but even they have been polished and seem shiny and new.
Brian said…
I don't disagree with any of your choices, but I would have to nominate FNL as one of the best US dramas, even in spite of the stupid murder storyline that took forever to end.

And for best new series, Gossip Girl is definitely up there. The writing is smart and the characters have depth. And it has introduced one of the best and most nuanced bad girls in recent TV memory: Blair Waldorf.
Unknown said…
Another new series you should try: Aliens in America. I was very surprised at just how funny it is. It also combines the sweet and the subversive amazingly well.
Anonymous said…
Definitely agree with your picks but would also add Big Love to the Best Drama list. It's as twisted as Damages and as wonderfully character-driven as Lost. The Henrickson clan is always welcome in my living room.

And I have to agree with Brian about adding Gossip Girl to the Best New Show category. Both Gossip Girl and Dirty Sexy Money are my new guilty pleasures and delight me in a way that nothing has since Melrose Place. It's deliciously wicked, just like Blair Waldorf.
wendy said…
What was your verdict on The Closer? It's still one of my favorites.
wendy said…
And I forgot - this last season of Curb Your Enthusiasm was funny in the same way that 30 Rock is. PAINFULLY funny. Brilliantly funny. The last episode of the season - there are no words to describe how much I loved it.
Deborah said…
Well, for me it's all about Mad Men (yep, and I blog about it). And for fall series, I'm mad about Life.

My cancellation sobs are over The 4400, Drive (only 3 episodes! and they were all pretty thrilling), and Studio 60.

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