It’s been a great TV year. I’ve spent the last few days making my list, watching the episodes twice all in preparation to give you my top 10 TV shows of 2006. So without further ado…
1. The Wire – When this show completes its 5 year run after the next season, it will likely be the best show to ever air on television. This doesn’t mean it will be my favourite – after all it’s not an easy or even particular entertaining show to watch compared to the typical TV fare. It is, however, the most fascinating, compelling, best acted show ever and this season exceeded even the high bar set by past seasons with its examination of the Baltimore school system, the rise of the next generation corner boys and their leaders and a study of the politics of being mayor. The thing I find most amazing about this show is its ability to juggle multiple storylines, a cast of 30+ actors – all leads and supporting at the same time – and the way it doesn’t force feed the viewer with simple, pat resolutions to complex situations. This show is frequently compared to a great book in terms of its pace and complexity but for me The Wire would not be as brilliant in any other medium where the quick cut scenes and the power of the actors transcend any printed page. I have to give a special shout out to the 4 actors playing Michael, Naymond, Duquan and Randy. Their performances gave their stories the gravity and heart that made this season one of the best. It’s going to be a long wait to find out what happens next.
2. The Shield – I’m shocked that I haven’t seen this show on that many best of lists from this year. In its fifth season, The Shield was at its best, using the unbelievable Forrest Whitaker to paint our Strike Team into a corner from which they did not emerge unscathed. Bringing to a head all of the storylines from the previous 4 seasons, including the amazing pilot episode, the season concluded with a moment that I saw coming and couldn’t believe was happening at the same time, changing the show forever and setting the groundwork for the new season. What more could a viewer ask for!
3. The Office – It’s blasphamy to say this in many TV circles but the US version of The Office has now surpassed the original in my books. I could mention the obvious moment of the past year – the season ending kiss between Jim and Pam which was the best season finale of last year. I could mention the amazing Steve Carell who brilliantly can be an incompetent buffoon one minute and an effective regional manager who has the loyalty of his staff the next. I could talk about all of the great episodes from the past year balancing laughs, cringe-worthy moments and emotional scenes simultaneously. Instead I’m going to focus on what truly has made this show unique from its British counterpart – the amazing work that has been done to make the supporting characters integral parts of the show. This show would not be as great as it is without Stanley, Kevin, Angela, Creed, Phyllis, Kelly, Oscar, Toby, Roy and new additions Ed Helms and Rashida Jones. Every week this is my favourite show to watch and I’m sure this won’t change in 2007.
4. Battlestar Galactica – I watched the entire series since the summer and all I have to say is wow!!! It’s hard not to agree with the mainstream critics who say that this isn’t just great sci-fi but great drama that should appeal to everyone. 2006 saw some brilliant moments for this show including the introduction of Pegasus, the birth of the first Cylon-Human baby and the truly game changing season 2.5 finale which jumped ahead a year in the settlement and Cylon occupation of New Caprica. I love how the show is able to paint its characters into difficult situations that seem to have no solution and no easy answers, often forcing them to make hard decisions. Unfortunately this means sometimes the show has to take an easy way out sometimes (Roslin’s cancer, death of Admiral Cain for example). Still week after week the show is excellent, character driven, action packed TV.
5. Heroes – Although we’re only 11 episodes in, I have high hopes for this show. As I’ve written before I’m a comic fan so I was somewhat predisposed to either love the show or hate it with nothing in between. I’m glad it turned out to be the former with great characters, fun mysteries with forward momentum every single week, great villains and cliffhangers galore. It’s still a little early to know if this show will have the staying power to be great in its 2nd and 3rd seasons but for now I’m just going to sit back and enjoy the ride.
6. Everwood – An unfortunate casualty of the WB-UPN merger (One Tree Hill and 7th Heaven, don’t make me laugh), Everwood was able to wrap up its storylines in a way that not only pleased fans of the show but was consistent with the way we expect the characters we’ve come to love over the show’s 5 seasons to behave. It also served as an amazing bookend to the first season with Andy talking to his wife, Amy’s grand gesture to win back Ephram, Nina and Andy getting together, Ephram finding his calling in Everwood and the Brown family at peace with their past and future. Here’s hoping the rest of the series makes its way to DVD very soon.
7. Friday Night Lights – It’s appropriate that this show follows my previous favourite family drama on this list. Friday Night Lights has a richness in its stories of the people who make up the Dillon Panthers and the community that worships them, that doesn’t exist on any other show today. The characters are 3 dimensional with the actors who play them transcending their archetypes of the dumb jock, the arrogant jock, the tough coach, the newbie quarterback and the hot cheerleader. Like Everwood, this is a show about a town and the families in it. Jason Street is a definite standout in the cast and I also have to acknowledge the show’s matter of fact integration of religion into its fabric which contrasts with the heavy handed portrayal in Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.
8. The Sopranos – After starting with a bang, the show kind of meandered a bit as it ended the first 1/2 of the 6th season. Still, The Sopranos remains event television and Edie Falco truly did the work of her career this season as her character finally acknowledged the life she’s led with Tony. Gandolfini also had amazing moments especially his interactions with AJ. Those who thought it wasn’t violent enough or moved a little too slow don’t hold much weight with me. I have high hopes that Chase and company will bring this show to the conclusion it justly deserves.
9. Veronica Mars – I’m not sure if I’m crazy yet about the new format of shorter story arcs but Veronica Mars continues to uniquely mix teenage angst with family drama and film noir each and every week. Last May’s finale was one of the best edge of your seat episodes ever wrapping up old storylines and showing why the characters on this show have us tuning in.
10. Lost – I worry about Lost and season 3 to date hasn’t made me feel more confident that the show knows where its going or will be brought to any form of resolution. However, as long as Abrams, Cuse et al continue to include jaw dropping moments like Michael shooting Ana Lucia and Libby, the destruction of the hatch and the introduction of the Others I can forgive some of the weaker moments and the limited story momentum. Concept wise I still love the show including the formula that mixes flashbacks with life on the island and I’m glad ABC decided to run it uninterrupted for the duration of the season since the frequent reruns last year didn’t help with momentum issues. It remains true escapist TV entertainment and I hope the remainder of season 3 is as good as the fantastic back half of season 2.
Honourable Mentions: I’m going to give an honourable mention to Entourage, How I Met Your Mother, Scrubs and Dexter. All were great this year but making a list is about drawing lines and this is where drew it.