2008 is drawing to a close, and it’s time to look back on the best TV had to offer us over the past year. It was a year of sophomore dramas, new comedies, and rallying back after the writers’ strike that crippled the previous TV season. Here are the shows that leaped to the top of the list and delivered the best quality to be found in 2008.
The best new series of 2008 comes from JJ Abrams, creator of Lost and Alias. And indeed, Fringe borrows thematically from Alias‘ intrigue, not to mention a large portion of its production staff. It also benefits from a healthy dose of X-Files conspiracy and paranoia, not to mention a fantastic cast that spotlights John Noble (Lord of the Rings) as the lovably brilliant mad scientist Walter Bishop.
Chuck was an enjoyable but entirely formulaic dramedy in its first season, introducing us to Buy More employee-turned-unwilling secret agent Chuck Bartowski and his cadre of friends, family, and coworkers. Something happened between seasons one and two, and the second year developed the story and characters in interesting and often hilarious ways, providing us with episodes that dared step beyond the “Chuck waits in the car” cliche that developed in the first season. An array of great guests that includes Carl Lumbly, Bruce Boxleitner, Morgan Fairchild, and Gary Cole further cemented Chuck as an awesomely fun series to keep an eye on.
I maintain that Dexter is the best show currently running, and the recently-wrapped third season delivered the goods once again. Michael C. Hall provides one of the most compelling acts on TV by making us root for and actually like a serial killer, and the supporting cast has grown and developed into integral and indespensable characters. The addition of Jimmy Smits this year was an unexpected choice, but it provided just the right story hook and conflict to spin the series into several surprising directions.
Lost makes the list because it’s the comeback kid for me this year. I was a big fan of the show in its first season and a half, but I lost my faith as the series was losing its way by meandering off with nonsensical tales of the Tailies, the increasingly byzantine and unnecessarily complex stories about Dharma and the Others, and the seemingly endless addition of useless extra characters. With season 4, though, the writers got things back on track in a big way and flipped the framework of the series on its head. By successfully engineering a proverbial shark-jumping, Lost is once again an enthralling and mysterious drama, and I’m again eager to see where the story leads.
Russell T. Davies reintroduced Doctor Who to the world with his series relaunch, and the conclusion of his four year story arc will go down in history as one of the best Doctor Who tales ever. The 2008 episodes also managed to win me over to the Doctor’s newest companion, Donna Noble, and they showed me clever and insightful science fiction that should be the model for all other sci-fi on TV today. This is fantastic storytelling, and it’s hard to imagine what the show will be like when it returns for a fifth season without Davies at the helm and without David Tennant in the TARDIS.
Honorable mentions: Torchwood, Pushing Daisies, Battlestar Galactica, The Office, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
What are your picks for the best TV shows of 2008? Feel free to leave your list in the comments.