The Best TV Shows of 2009

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Aside from our 100 favorite things from TV this year, there were specific shows that just tickled our fancies or swelled our hearts or, in a few cases, made us angry. So we the staff have compiled our list of what we think is the best TV of the year, and what disappointed us most. Where do your favorite shows appear (or not appear) on this list? Let us know in the comments.

I loved…

Friday Night Lights: I’m just glad it’s back. I don’t care about football and I’ve never been to Texas, but I must find out what happens to Tim Riggins.

True Blood: While the writers may have gotten carried away with the Maryann storyline, I was impressed with their use of vampires to explore difficult subjects like discrimination and religious zealotry.

Cougar Town: I’m completely embarrassed to put this on my list, but: I was ready to boycott this show and its stupid slangy title, but then I watched it. And I didn’t hate it. The characters’ actions are completely over-the-top, but their motivations are based in truth. Courteney Cox is actually funny and amazing to watch—she still looks fresh out of that 1984 Bruce Springsteen video. And it has Freaks and Geeks’ Kim Kelly (Busy Phillips) as one of the most annoying yet lovable characters I’ve seen in a while. Cougar Town is like Weeds without the weed. Or like a campier version of Lipstick Jungle. Yes, I admit it, I watched that one too. So?

Mad Men: It’s not just a show. It’s a lifestyle.

Glee: I know I’m not the only one whose life has changed since this show first aired. Each week, Glee offers a dose of hyper emotional release through song that’s totally uplifting and completely addictive.

I was disappointed by…

Bored To Death: This show had me at the trailer: A sexy, pulpy detective show about New York writer Jonathan Ames investigating cases with the help of his ridiculous graphic-novelist friend? By the real New York writer Jonathan Ames, who boldly wrote himself in as the star of the series? With an all-star cast that includes Jason Schwartzman (sigh), Zack Galafanakis (Google his five-year-old with a beard routine), and Ted Danson (whose comeback I've been waiting for since Three Men and a Baby)? A roster of guest stars that reads like the VIP list for the ultimate downtown party (Parker Posey, Kristin Wiig, Sarah Vowell, Jim Jarmusch, Bebe Neuwirth)? Yes please! But then I watched the first episode, and it just never came together. The timing was off, the style inconsistent, and nobody was as funny or as dark or as perfectly awkward as I knew they could be. It was like discovering that all your biggest crushes got together to tempt you with your dreams—and then killed them.
—Ilana Diamond, Editorial assistant

I loved…

Community: The comedy isn't always great but when it's good it's amazing. The writers do great things with the star-studded ensemble cast including 30 Rock alum Donald Glover.

30 Rock: Alec Baldwin is without a doubt the best part of this show. The show's a powerhouse and the good jokes just keep on coming after more than three years.

Better Off Ted: Portia de Rossi is back in a major comedy role! One-liners abound and the fake Veridian commercials are always hilarious.

House: A serious departure from the old one-patient-per-episode formula when the writers decided to focus deeply on the mind of Dr. House and to develop the character interaction.

Dexter: John Lithgow is creepy as hell and is just another example of the writers’ superb character development. This fourth season is the most radical plot yet. Could it get any better?

I was disappointed by…

Scrubs: Coming back after the backstage footage of the cast at the end of last season? Can’t rename the show? Stop trying to keep it alive at all.

Anna Hiatt, Editorial Assistant

I loved...

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: After something of a slump in season four, FX’s absurdist buddy comedy has redeemed itself this year in spades. “The Gang Hits the Road” is absolutely the funniest 23 minutes of television I saw this year.

Dollhouse's "Epitaph One" episode: Though it didn’t technically air on TV, this brilliant hour was released with the first season DVD, so it counts! A bleak and thrilling look at a post-apocalyptic world gone mad with brainwashing, “Epitaph One” proved that Joss Whedon knew where he was steering this ship—somewhere grand and terrifying in its dystopia. Just in time for the show to get canceled! Ah well.

AMC: Breaking Bad soared to gritty new lows in its whip-smart and deeply unsettling second season, while Mad Men explored meaty themes and stepped bravely into the future at the end of its third. Per capita, AMC is producing the best TV shows in the biz. Well, except for The Prisoner.

Lost: Handling tricky time-traveling episodes with aplomb and daring, the Lost writers managed to push the show up to yet another new level of out-there-ness without losing any of the stirring humanity that grounds it. The rousing season finale flipped the board yet again in eerie and mysterious fashion, tantalizingly laying the groundwork for the series’ final (sob) run around the island.

Big Love: While always a curious and compelling look at a particular set of American lives, Big Love truly hit its stride in its third outing. By allowing themselves to explore more metaphysical and existential quandaries, the creative team blessedly loosened the show up and let some light and air come streaming in. The third season sang, like a great big yearning Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

I was disappointed by…

Bored to Death (HBO): exactly what it did to me, emitting a ponderously muted and sleepy hum when I was hoping for some lively, self-skewering Brooklyn quirk. Watching a show this pleased with itself feels like homework.

Richard Lawson, Staff Writer

I loved…

Things I Hate About You (ABC): When I saw that ABC Family was making my favorite teen movie EVER into a TV show, I was pissed. But, um, then I saw the show. It’s seamless. The script is witty. The characters are nothing like their cinematic counterparts, except maybe on paper. The plot is parallel but not identical to the movie (only Larry Miller crossed over). And everyone’s adorable (well Ethan Peck is just hot.)

Lie to Me (Fox): Well, FOX better love me, because apparently I love them. Lie to Me is just so damn interesting. I’m hoping against hope that Cal Lightman’s techniques will somehow adhere to my brain, but no such luck yet. I still enjoy watching him detect lies, though, and I love seeing the talents of his team come into play. The show also builds suspense and tension really well, especially for a procedural. Plus, Tim Roth is a total badass.

Fringe: This article says why I love it, but I’ll say it again. I’ve never loved a “supernatural thriller” type show before until I found this one. The actors (Josh Jackson and Lance Reddick) drew me in, but the story kept me coming back. The episode-to-episode cases are creative and fascinating, the characters develop more when they interact with each other, and the show-wide “alternate universe” story arc is just plain cool.

Modern Family: It’s hard to blend sentimentality and sarcasm together without one overpowering the other, but this comedy does it flawlessly. The Pritchett-Dunphy clan has a raunchy, racist, ignorant, and witty sense of humor. In other words, they’re as close to real people as it gets.

Glee: It's approachable—everyone knows the songs, which means they can appreciate when they’re being covered well. It’s realistic: The drama always happens in the right time frame. It’s heartbreaking: The characters experience real traumas and deal with them like real people. It’s hilarious: After all, it is high school. It’s the show I look forward to the most each week, and I’ll be tapping my fingers in anticipation for April.

I was disappointed by…

One Tree Hill Who cares about generically pretty people with really boring relationship problems? I sure as hell don’t. Especially since Chad Michael Murray and Hilarie Burton, whose characters at least had an interesting storyline, ditched the show after the previous season.

Stefanie Lee, Staff Writer

I loved…

The Big Bang Theory: Sheldon and Leonard are the best leading pair of characters on TV.

Glee: This season’s hottest new cast of characters (and actors) delivered the year’s biggest surprise. Terrific writing and acting, with musical numbers that could’ve been awful but are instead charmingly uplifting.

Rescue Me: Flew under the radar this season but rediscovered its mojo. Tommy Gavin and the cast of characters are among the most grittily flawed & human on television.

30 Rock: A well-oiled machine racing at full throttle, with one zinger after another delivered with perfect aplomb. Awe-inspiringly original and funny, with characters I love.

Battlestar Galactica: The greatest series ever made bows out with a thrilling, overly dramatic finale and superb set of episodes. Saying goodbye to Baltar, Number Six, Roslin, and company wasn’t easy.

I was disappointed by…

Bravo: Apart from Top Chef and Flipping Out, its schedule continues to be dominated by worthless worshipping of the idle rich.

Walter Morbeck, Content Programmer

I loved…

Damages: I hate legal dramas, which is exactly why I love Damages. It's about power-hungry back-stabbers who will do anything they can to win, even MURDER. Hmmm, I guess it actually is about lawyers. Only without the courtroom.

Modern Family: God I wish my family was this funny.

Lost: The fifth chapter sent heads swirling and noses bleeding with time travel and a journey back to the best decade ever. An excellent launching point to Season Six.

Breaking Bad: Season Two added a much needed dimension to Jesse, and Aaron Paul answered the call brilliantly. The stakes were raised, the tension upped, and how about that finale?

Supernatural: Let's see, Paris Hilton gets her head chopped off, Grey's Anatomy gets parodied, and Lucifer is a cool guy. The show has found its stride, and all it took was the impending end of the world.

Honorable mentions: True Blood, Sons of Anarchy, Community.

I was disappointed by…

Flashforward: A great premise that was butchered beyond belief and buried under cliches and bad movie-making. Dreadful. And so disappointing.

Tim Surette, Staff Writer

I loved…

Curb Your Enthusiasm

: The Seinfeld reunion arc was fantastic.

Parks and Recreation: It may have started as a lesser/copycat version of The Office, but has dramatically improved this year.

Glee: Fun music, funny jokes, surprisingly and thrillingly dark undertones.

Modern Family: I can't decide which of the four dads is my favorite. Manny is pretty good, too.

30 Rock: Still love it. When it's silly, it's sublime.

I was disappointed by…

Flashforward: I still think the premise is intriguing, but I can't stand Joseph Fiennes' furrowed brow and Batman voice.

Jen Trolio, Managing Editor

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