The best and worst in TV 2005

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SMOOTH OPERATORS Nip/Tuck's McMahon, left, and Dylan Walsh headlined 2005's best TV drama.

THE PEAKS

1. Nip/Tuck
FX's high-gloss drama about a Miami cosmetic-surgery clinic was already a terrific show, but the third season's fearless exploration of male sexuality elevated the series to another plane entirely. Between Christian Troy's (Julian McMahon) complex response to being raped and teenager Matt McNamara (John Hensley) feeling out his attraction to transsexals, nothing on the tube came close to breaking as much new ground.

2. Six Feet Under
Great shows that tarnish their rep by sticking around too long are sadly commonplace; those that know when to quit and do so with style are rare indeed. Six Feet Under's beautifully paced wind-down yielded one of the most devastating episodes in TV history (Nate Fisher's funeral) and provided a textbook example of how to craft a finale that pleases fans without pandering to them.

3. Lost
When a show relies on mysterious questions to justify its existence, striking the right balance between providing answers and deriving fresh stories from the premise is brutally difficult. This year's Emmy winner for Outstanding Dramatic Series pulled it off with aplomb, while simultaneously telling rich, character-driven stories in the tradition of Rod Serling and O. Henry.

4. Deadwood
If history is written by the victors, Deadwood is all about giving the losers their due. In the first season, magnificent bastard Al Swearingen (Ian McShayne) came off as a villain; this year, his inevitably doomed campaign to save the lawless town from annexation by the United States and exploitation by robber barons served as a brilliant allegory for the evolution of American capitalism.

5. Veronica Mars
One of the best shows of the 2004-05 season got even better this year as the characters gained new depth, refining creator Rob Thomas's inspired blend of Nancy Drew, Twin Peaks and Degrassi High. Harry Hamlin gets special props for his transformation into TV's most hateful villain, while Kristen Bell and Enrico Colantoni effortlessly eclipsed Alias's Jennifer Garner and Victor Garber as the small screen's most believable and affecting daughter--father team.

6. The Office
There are a thousand ways this remake of the BBC gem could have failed, but executive producer Greg Daniels avoided all of them. By giving his cast the improvisational breathing room to make his American reinterpretation a legitimately great show in its own right.

7. House
TV is a medium typically driven more by premise than by character, but without its acerbic, pill-popping protagonist, House would be just another medical show. Hugh Laurie's portrayal of the phlegmatic physician made each episode a master class in the art of screen acting, while the scripts revealed more about the guesswork involved in the actual practice of medicine than ER has in a decade-plus on the air.

8. Weeds
Suburban angst is one of the most played-out subjects there is, but creator Jenji Kohan's terrific comedy-drama went places other shows didn't, avoiding pat resolutions and rendering the highs and lows of everyday life with a masterful degree of emotional realism. And damn was it nice to see Mary-Louise Parker in a role worthy of her gifts.

9. The Shield
This year's pair of inspired casting decisions—Glenn Close as an intensely driven veteran cop and comic Anthony Anderson as a canny drug dealer—revitalized the gritty police drama and set the stage for a fifth season (starting January 10) that promises to be every bit as gripping.

10. Battlestar Galactica
It was sometimes hard to tell what the war-on-terror parallels meant, but no series did a better job of blending adrenalized action, knot-in-your-stomach suspense and multifaceted characterization.

Honorable Mentions:
Gilmore Girls, Rome, Medium, Rescue Me, My Name is Earl, Project Runway, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Alias, Scrubs and Grey's Anatomy.

THE PITS

1. Freddie
Cynically trading on his Puerto Rican heritage, Freddie Prinze Jr. stormed the small screen with a braying sitcom. Chronicling the misadventures of bachelor whose ethnic stereotype-laden family moves in with him, Freddie embodied the genre at its tackiest.

2. Out of Practice
Few things are more depressing than seeing a killer cast—including Stockard Channing and Henry Winkler—trapped in a leaden comedy. Unfortunately for them, the momentum of CBS's Monday schedule has kept this clunker around despite costar Paula Marshall's famous series-killing jinx.

3. The War at Home
Revisionist nostalgia aside, Married...with Children sucked the first time around. Michael Rappaport's smug fourth wall--breaking narration makes this retread even worse.

4. Sex, Love & Secrets
Never heard of it? No surprise: Though UPN traditionally tolerates low ratings, this tragically hip L.A. soap starring Denise Richards was pulled after four weeks, and with good reason.

5. Rock Star: INXS
How low can reality TV go? The betrayal of the late Michael Hutchence by his bandmates was sad even by the bottom-feeding standards of the reunion-tour circuit.

Not quite as bad (but close):
Starved, Related, Head Cases, The Apprentice: Martha Stewart and So You Think You Can Dance.

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