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More "Fresh Air" Today, With My Year-End Top 10 List -- But Here's a Preview, and an Exclusive Bonus, My Bottom 5
December 23, 2009  | By David Bianculli

curb-your-enthusiasm-larry-.jpgToday on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross, Terry will interview me for the second time in a month. Last time it was for the launch of my book, and today it's to recap the year in television -- including my Top 10 List for 2009, which I'll share here -- and my Bottom 5, which will be presented here exclusively...

(To hear our entire conversation, check out the Fresh Air website after about 5 p.m. ET by clicking HERE.)


1) Curb Your Enthusiasm, HBO

2) Mad Men, AMC

3) The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, COM

4) Lost, ABC

5) Friday Night Lights, NBC/DirecTV

6) 30 Rock, NBC

7) Dexter, SHO

8) Breaking Bad, AMC

9) True Blood, HBO

10) (tie) Damages, FX

60 Minutes, CBS


And here are the ones that only barely missed the cut, but are absolutely deserving of Top 10 placement:

Rescue Me, FX
In Treatment, HBO
Glee, FOX
House, FOX
Modern Family, ABC
Battlestar Galactica, SYFY
Fringe, FOX


And now, for my Bottom 5 of 2009, and why:


1) The Jay Leno Show, NBC. The stakes are so high, the results so low. A generation ago, NBC stood for TV quality, thanks to NBC Chairman Grant Tinker. Now, thanks largely to NBC/Universal tinkerer Jeff Zucker, it stands for inexpensive, mostly unwatchable TV tossaways.

2) Obsournes Reloaded, FOX. Fox produced this series of variety specials, broadcast one and changed its mind, yanking the others. Better late than never, I suppose.

3) I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!, NBC. Six years after ABC presents this horrible reality series, NBC revives it, and gives an additional dollop of fame to the likes of Heidi and Spencer. What tripe.

4) Octomom: The Incredible Unseen Footage, FOX. Would that it would have remained Unseen.

5) Harper's Island, CBS. The network's one glaring misstep of 2009? Deciding that a summer show mixing an Agatha Christie-style whodunnit with a gory-killer Saw-type franchise would make for a fun summer soap opera. This isn't what we meant when we lobbied for cutting-edge television.


What did I miss? Besides Comedy Central's The Colbert Report, which Terry already chastised me about...

Let me know.




Tausif Khan said:

I would argue Dollhouse as a show overall should make the honorable mentions. You have championed the show here on the blog. It has too many clunky episodes to be considered in the top 10. But considering that the entire series minus the last three episodes of the series were aired in 2009, it is quite an accomplishment. We were introduced to the amazing acting of Olivia Williams, Enver Gjokaj,Dichen Lachman and Fran Kranz. The writing had the audience pondering questions of identity and consciousness on broadcast television late on Friday nights. The most recent episode "The Attic" will have scholars puzzled for years in my estimation. Because of these reasons I think that Dollhouse, in spite all of the network interference, was one of the best shows of this year.

[If the last few episodes had really knocked my socks off I would have agreed completely -- and there's still time, with a few episodes left. But at this point, from season two especially, I wanted and expected more. That's when Whedon's Buffy and Angel both went stratospheric. -- David B.]

Comment posted on December 23, 2009 10:31 AM
Colleen said:

David, David, David. You must have had a brain fart. No Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson?!?

Comment posted on December 23, 2009 11:30 AM

sandman said:

I think u r missing sons of anarchy i think it is the best show on t.v in a while.

[I accept the suggestion warmly -- Katey Sagal, I thought, was fabulous this season -- but I ask politely, please, for u 2 spell things out in future posts. We proudly embrace old-fashioned, non-texty English here. Thanks. -- David B.]

Comment posted on December 23, 2009 12:12 PM

nmlhats said:

We do not have any fancy TV at our house, so our options are limited to the networks (or DVDs of old cable seasons). I like Glee, House, The Good Wife, 30 Rock, 60 Minutes, and have just discovered Better Off Ted.

Comment posted on December 23, 2009 12:26 PM

Rich said:


What? No "Dollhouse"? I personally don't think any shows could top "Lost", "Dexter" and "House" for 2009. "True Blood" should be higher also.

I predicted Leno would be non-existent in May 2009. No one wants variety-style shows at 10 PM. I've already heard rumors NBC wants to replace Conan with Seinfeld (Yeah, go back to the 90's- that will help- dopes!). NBC (and GE) DOES NOT CARE! They are 'fire bombing' at this point, they would rather the whole network burn down than get rid of "Dead Weight" (like "SNL"). NBC would rather destroy itself than admit its programming choices (and "Green Agenda"?) are failing. STOP airing what YOU want NBC and join the other Networks in what the 'Masses' want- even if it's not what you personally endorse. (*There's NO Hope for Change for NBC at this point.*)

MY Top 5 is slightly different:

#1. "Lost"
#2. "House"
#3. "Bleach" - (season 10) 'Tales of Zanpaktuo' Arc (still going)
#4. "True Blood"
#5. "K-On!" (the New Standard for MOE Anime)
"Lost" because its clever and weaving everything together. "House" for its constant innovation and story telling and Twists so bold you needed to check your own pulse. "Bleach" for taking a 'Filler Arc' (in it's 10th Season!) in directions that have reinvented the entire reason for the Uses of a "filler Arc" (Best Non-Cannon story in a decade!). "True Blood" superb story telling and weaving of supernaturalism & sex and "K-On!" for characters and stories told so simply you wonder why studios never don't always stick the source material - Plus, also having their actresses actually become a "singing group" (like "The Monkees).


Too many to name! - except one. "Endless Eight" The worst anime story experiment ever!...ever!.

[Rich: Next week, let's get you to wrote a guest student blog about anime. Translate it, so to speak, for us older, slightly less tuned-in folk... -- David B.]

Comment posted on December 23, 2009 12:38 PM

David said:

The Office still has its moments, but am I the only one that misses My Name is Earl? It had a lot of heart and a few surprisingly touching endings. I also loved the seques(sp) where the camera lifts up as if it was being filmed on a multi-floored stage. I guess it was too expensive and too small an audience for Thursday night.

Otherwise I agree with your top 10.

Will AMC please bring back Breaking Bad soon?

Comment posted on December 23, 2009 12:43 PM

jan said:

Two that I really liked this year were Sons of Anarchy and Burn Notice.

Comment posted on December 23, 2009 1:11 PM

Lianne said:

"Good Wife" is really well written for self-contained 40 plot drama. The acting is just arch enough. For these reasons it deserves viewers' attention.

Comment posted on December 23, 2009 1:16 PM

Gregg B said:

My List:
1. Curb Your Enthusiasm
Best show on television

2. The Office
Storyline of Michael starting his own paper company was just hilarious and the Wedding episode was the best they have done in years.

3. Glee
Though the storylines are often ridiculous, I can't wait until I see each episode. Jane Lynch is a hoot.

4. Modern Family
Everybody in this show is so good and the show is just so enjoyable.

5. Bored to Death
This is one of the most unique shows on TV. Ted Danson is doing some of his best work on this show.

6. Parks and Recreation
This has been a breakout season for this show. Amy Poehler should be getting more accolades for her performance than she is getting. Sorry, she is a better actress than Tina Fey.

7. 60 Minutes
Every story is interesting.

8. True Blood
Alan Ball is a genius. Lots of fun.

9. The Tonight Show
Conan gets funnier and funnier. The show has Andy Richter!

10. DogTown
What these people do with dogs is amazing. Each episode is fascinating.

I don't watch it enough to include it on my list but I am surprised you didn't include The Late Late Show.

[Nice list! - David B.]

Comment posted on December 23, 2009 1:20 PM

Neil said:

I would have added two comedies to the "honorable mentions" list:

1. The Big Bang Theory (CBS): If you are or have ever been a geek or nerd (Guilty!), this comedy has to grow on you week by week. The writing just keeps getting more sharply defined and LOL funny, and the actors, like the ones on their sister show Two and a Half Men, have grown to inhabit their roles.

2. Better Off Ted (ABC): All by itself, it's an amazing achievement that ABC hasn't killed this show off yet by dint of last year's scheduling ineptitude. This year the show has coalesced into a live action version of the Dilbert comic strip, skewering the worst of life inside big, monolithic, soulless corporations.

And if you decide to expand your Top 5 Worst list, which wouldn't be hard at all to do, I'd add two competitors from Saturday late night, Wanda Sykes (FOX) and Saturday Night Live (NBC), neither of which has been the least bit funny all season.

Wanda's show needs to go, as in Cancel It!, or at minimum give it a wholesale housecleaning in the writing and producing ranks. They desperately need to find people who can write for her performing style, and pace and block the show better. As things now stand, it's like the humor has called in sick.

As for SNL, maybe they let the wrong people go after last season, but this crew strikes me as pathetically unfunny. The cold opens, the guest host monologues, the skits, even Weekend Update have me sitting there in stone silence wondering why I haven't just gone to bed. I cannot believe they let Darrell Hammond (and Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, etc. etc.) escape but kept the cast they now have. Nobody's funny, and the material consistently sucks. Which makes me wonder whether the real problem isn't at the top. Maybe Lorne Michaels has passed his expiration date and the show needs a new Exec Producer. (But then so does that entire network.)

Wishing you (DB) and all your readers a merry Christmas.

[Nice comments, Neil -- and you're right about "Big Bang Theory." I enjoy it so much, not mentioning it was an oversight. -- David B.]

Comment posted on December 23, 2009 2:00 PM

Patrick said:

Psych! The little program that survived the death Friday night time slot and now moves to a proper weekday slot.

Comment posted on December 23, 2009 2:55 PM

Sarah said:

The only show I want to add to the best of TV 2009 is Torchwood: Children of Earth. I felt more emotions during their 5 episodes then a whole season of any other series you mentioned. I laughed , I cried, I had to cover my eyes a couple of times. It was romantic and full of adventure. And even though I will miss Ianto Jones (to paraphase someone in one of my magazines) I'm not sure what's going to happen next but I am looking forward to it.
[Yes, that definitely was a great miniseries -- and much, much spookier than expected. -- David B.]

Comment posted on December 23, 2009 2:57 PM

Bob said:

"House" is getting so tired. It started out promisingly, but it is back to the tired old formula. A better replacement for honorable mention in my opinion would be "Lie to Me," which follows "House." Tim Roth makes "Lie to Me" worth watching.

Comment posted on December 23, 2009 3:34 PM

Sharon Dougherty said:

I agree with all your top ten picks for 2009 and would add TNT's "The Closer" for special mention. Krya Sedgwick has created a complex, funny character. Supporting cast and characters are terrific and the writing is excellent almost every week.

Comment posted on December 23, 2009 3:39 PM

Kyle said:

Personally, I was disappointed that you snubbed NBC's Thursday nights -- Parks and Recreation (which has gotten so much better), Community, and The Office. 30 Rock has seemed so much weaker, grasping for ideas (well, in my opinion, clearly), so I don't really get why that got on the list.

Comment posted on December 23, 2009 3:42 PM

Clay Myers said:

The right-on-the-head remarks by MSNBC.com for improvement of Flash Forward notwithstanding, this Lost-like new show is heads above most dramas on TV. The characters are interesting and the acting is excellent.

And I'll have to disagree with 30 Rock in a top ten list. I find that the good points (among them Alec Baldwin, who really anchors the show) are offset equally by the pervasive stupidity which tilts from cute to annoying when too profuse. There IS a difference between silly and stupid and too much stupid is not silly or amusing.

Finally, although I find myself breaking my own rules by recommending a show with few morals, this mid-50 Boomer finds one episode of Accidentally on Purpose funnier than two Judd Apatow movies. It is sharp, intelligent humor and there is lots of it. This is a very funny show.

Comment posted on December 23, 2009 4:13 PM

Mac said:

David,are you planning on a "Best of the Decade"? I heard you mention "The Wire" with Terry, and, even though I"m too cheap to spring for premium cable, I rented enough of "The Wire" to see that nothing could top that. "The Wire" is better than most movies of the decade, let alone TV. Also, there is an interesting top of the decade list by a committee at the Associated Press. CSI? Idle American? High School Musical? Osbornes? Evidently their are TV viewers who smoke funny cigarettes and don't just watch Craig Ferguson.
[No best-of-decade plans yet, but who knows? Maybe after a few days of rest... -- David B.]

Comment posted on December 23, 2009 4:39 PM

Brad said:

Listening to you talk about commercial tv abdicating everything to cable, I wonder why, during this down economy, commercial tv isn't doing the major push-back, promoting that it's free (of course, they would have to upgrade reception). Seems to me just another example of big corporate not looking forward, ala the auto industry.
[Absolutely! Couldn't agree more. -- David B.]

Comment posted on December 23, 2009 7:26 PM

Kim Jones said:

David, What about shows on PBS? I continue to think Frontline one of the best shows on tv, and loved Masterpiece Theatre's adaptation of Little Dorrit and their more contemporary offerings, such as Collision.

Thanks, Kim

[Frontline, absolutely -- not mentioning it was an absolute oversight. Little Dorrit and the like I consider miniseries, so not in the same category, but Frontline should have been very honorably mentioned. -- David B.]

Comment posted on December 24, 2009 12:17 AM

Russ said:

Life (NBC)...gone too soon, too little appreciated.

[Yeah, I loved this show, too. Would have loved to see one more season, at least, to see what happened next. -- David B.]

Comment posted on December 24, 2009 1:53 AM

jody friedman said:

I have throughly enjoyed "The Good Wife" and "Lie to Me." They are interesting, and creative, and the acting is very fine, and there is no blood, guts or terrible darkness I have to see in order to be entertained.

Comment posted on December 24, 2009 7:02 AM

Mara said:

In light of the PBS oversight, how about Bill Moyers' Journal? That has been the most consistently creative and insightful news program on the air this year.

Comment posted on December 24, 2009 1:40 PM

DAVID H said:

i agree dave b. jay leno is the antichtrist.

nice guy... but still the antichtrist.

and NBC is SATAN

Comment posted on December 24, 2009 6:49 PM

Jessica said:

I think Friday Night Lights has to be #2, only because we wait so long to see the new season. Jon Stewart is great, every night, a rarity.

I love hearing you on Fresh Air, we just bought your book, cannot wait to read it!

[Dear Jessica - Thanks! Now that the book is out, I can do a lot more Fresh Air radio -- and let me know what you think about the book! Happy New Year! -- David B.]

Comment posted on December 25, 2009 10:03 PM

David Driscoll said:

Your two biggest omissions: "PARTY DOWN" and "THE LEAGUE". These are by far the two best new comedies of the year. (Disclosure: I have abstained from watching "Glee" to date, as I can't get over how angry I am that that show stole Jane Lynch from "Party Down".)

The writing and acting on "Party Down" is tremendous (everything that "Entourage" isn't these days...). Also, that show makes better use of guest "stars" than any show in recent memory.

"The League" deserves credit for blending the vulgar/unlikeable characters of "It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia" with both a post-jock and "mumblecore"/hipster crowd. That in itself is a remarkable accomplishment, let alone how funny the writing and set-pieces are.

Kudos to you, though, for bringing up the writing on "BREAKING BAD". I thought the second season was one of the most brilliantly constructed story-arcs of television since "TWIN PEAKS". That show is probably the only one these days that really does "earn" its contrivances and coincidences; they actually feel organic and true to the "character of the show", while at the same time necessary to the plotting.

On the other hand, I think it's worth noting that the writing on "MAD MEN" jumped the shark after about 5 or so episodes in Season 3. (Am I the only one who has noticed the drop-off here?) I will still continue to watch the show (and hope that Season 4 is an improvement), but someone (hopefully a smart and influential TV critic...) really needs to set Matthew Weiner straight and tell him to stop forcing stories on his characters and let his characters drive the stories again. (Here's one suggestion: how about focusing more on Ken Cosgrove in Season 4? --in my opinion, Aaron Staton is the most underused talent on that show).

Thanks, and keep up the good work,
David D.

Comment posted on December 29, 2009 8:33 AM
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