Reality TV continued to rule the airwaves (or “pollute the airwaves,” depending on your perspective). Gay-themed TV shows fell out in favor of poker-themed TV shows (a trend that will only continue in 2005). And, of course, 130 million people saw Janet Jackson's boob. That's the year that was television in 2004.
So what was the best of the best? Here's my two cents. ...
“Lost”—J.J. Abrams has created the crackerjack, ratings high series that his much-praised but largely unwatched creation “Alias” always wanted to be. ABC should be kissing this guy's butt on a daily basis. Setting aside the show's central mystery (what the hell is going on on that damn island?), you realize that Abrams has created a sneaky, well-written character drama. Using flashbacks every episode to show the backstory of one single survivor is a brilliant device. In barely half a season, viewers have become intimate with a whole host of interesting, sympathetic characters. Now, we just wait to see if Abrams can pull off the big “answer” without A) extending the show too long, or B) making up something preposterous.
The Life and Death of Peter Sellers—After last year's magnificent Angels in America, what could HBO do to nail down some more Emmy Awards? Here's the answer: a perfectly acted, inventively directed biopic of famed comic actor Peter Sellers. Star Geoffrey Rush gives a pitch-perfect performance and director Stephen Hopkins (“Traffic,” “24”) delivers a deliriously psychedelic take on Sellers' strange life.
“The Daily Show”—After the 9-11 tragedy, I thanked my lucky stars for Comedy Central's “The Daily Show” for providing a little sanity and humor in these mad times. Now, in the wake of the 11-2 tragedy (otherwise known as election day), I thank Jon Stewart and compatriots for giving a firm and incisive ribbing to those political, corporate and cultural leaders who so richly deserve it.
“Deadwood”—I wasn't too sure about this ultraviolent, curseword-laden western series when it first hit HBO. How could it compete with “The Sopranos”? I became a quick convert, though. The show's hyper-gritty, decidedly unromantic portrait of the Old West is good, grubby fun. Ian McShane's evil saloon owner Al Swearengen is, hands down, the best TV villain of the year. And the show's complex narrative is as deft an examination of the greed, guts and bloodshed it took to form this country as you'll find.
“The Venture Brothers”—I may be alone in this opinion (and the lackluster ratings back me up), but I think this is the best original series Cartoon Network has on the air right now. A perfectly clever, occasionally naughty, surprisingly mature parody of 40-odd years worth of boy's adventure tales--from The Hardy Boys to “Jonny Quest” to The Fantastic Four. This had better come back for a second season or I'm blaming all of America!
Next Five: “Arrested Development” (FOX), “Entourage” (HBO), “Wonderfalls” (FOX), “Desperate Housewives” (ABC), “Rescue Me” (FX)